Picture a strict German-Jewish immigrant grandmother who raises four of her own children, only to discover she’s got to care for two teenage grandsons for a year. Think clash of generations, and battle of wills. All set during World War II.
It’s the premise of playwright Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers” — being performed by Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix through April 10.
The two grandsons are played by young Arizona talents Maxx Carlisle-King (Arty), a 9th grader at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, and Ryan DeLuca (Jay), a 21-year-old from Tucson who’ll graduate this spring with a B.F.A. in acting from UA.
Carlisle-King made his acting debut at age two in a production of “Gypsy” – and has performed in more than three dozen shows since. DeLuca started acting during elementary school, but traded theater for the school dive team during high school.
DeLuca returned to acting, which he prefers over musical theater, when it came time to choose a college major. Seems his dad asked him what he really enjoyed doing — and theater was it.
He’s convinced all theater programs have pros and cons, and agrees good teachers are essential. But most importantly, says DeLuca, “college is always what you put into it.”
Come summer, DeLuca will be moving to New York so he can do “as many auditions as possible.” He’s already lined up “a place to live and a day job.”
It sounds like the “Yonkers” gig is serving him well. “Every day in rehearsals and shows is like a master class,” quips DeLuca. Other cast members include Judy Kaye (Grandma Kurnitz), who has performed in numerous Broadway musicals including “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Sweeney Todd.”
DeLuca says he loves working with the veteran cast because “nothing is ever repeated.” “It’s all about finding something new,” he says, “and what’s in the moment at that point in time.”
Playing this particular character, a nearly-16-year-old boy who lives in tough family and historical times, has taught DeLuca “to be a lot more patient.” “It’s too easy,” he says, “to fall into the negative.”
The show, it seems, has very real lessons DeLuca is applying to his own life. In good times and bad, he says, it’s important to ask “What can I gain out of this?”
DeLuca says he’s especially pleased to be performing in “Lost in Yonkers” since it was his favorite movie as a child. “I’ve seen it at least ten to fifteen times,” he recalls. But why? “The characters are really honest and they speak their minds.” He describes his own character as “witty and funny.”
But what’s the take-home message for folks who see the show? “There’s joy in everything,” says DeLuca, “and you can always learn more.”
Note: Click here to read a play guide with more information about the play, the playwright, the play’s historical context and more.
Coming up: New season announcements