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Haymarket Theatre Breathes Life Into “Lost In Yonkers”

by Judy Hart

I recently had the good fortune to attend the Haymarket Theater’s current production “Lost in Yonkers” directed by Tom Crew.

“Lost in Yonkers” is Neil Simon’s 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning play about the Kurnitz family who live above a candy store in Yonkers, New York. The action of the play takes place in 1942 when teenagers Jay & Arty come to live with their Aunt and Grandmother while their Father travels through the American South selling scrap iron. This Haymarket Theatre production breathes life into Mr. Simon’s wounded yet familiar characters.

The play opens with Arty (Dylan Wilson) & Jay (Ben Arenz) waiting impatiently in the living room while their father Eddie (Tim Anderson) begs Grandma (Elizabeth Govaerts) to allow his sons to stay with her while he travels for work. Everyone is afraid of Grandma Kurnitz, a very stern immigrant from Germany, who lives with her simple daughter Bella (Katy Morehouse). Bella is a bit off-center but also loving and protective of her nephews. Into this crazy mix comes Bella’s gangster brother Louie (Jason Query) who is hiding out from the mob and sister Gert (Rachele Stoops) who has a breathing problem – especially when Grandma is around.

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Pictures above from L-R: Rachele Stoops, Jason Query, Katy Morehouse, Tim Andersen, Elizabeth Govaerts (seated). Below L-R: Ben Arenz and Dylan Wilson. Photos courtesy of Andy Dillehay.

Dylan Wilson and Ben Arenz are charming as Arty and Jay. They don’t like their new living situation and they’d love to find Grandma’s hidden stash of money so they can get back to the life they were beginning after their mother’s death. They’re afraid of Grandma, and find it difficult to relate to their crazy Aunt Bella. Both actors are confidant and handle Mr. Simon’s banter with ease. These boys are fun to watch as they move from terrified to fed-up.

Eddie (Arty and Jay’s dad) is played by Tim Anderson who has the difficult job of establishing Grandma’s power at the beginning of the play. Playwright Neil Simon uses the wonderful theatrical device of having his characters tell us (the audience) all about the offstage characters well before we meet them. Tim is a young Eddie who is most comfortable in his longer speeches.

While Eddie is offstage, we meet his sister Bella played by Katy Morehouse. Katy’s Bella is complex and joyful. Her simplicity in Act 1 is intriguing. She rides a happy edge between child and woman. In Act 2, Bella’s need and desperation push her past that delicate balance into “woman” which we as an audience know won’t turn out well for Bella. It’s a joy to watch Katy on stage. She is refreshing and honest.

We don’t often see Elizabeth Govaerts in a Grandma role, but Beth embraces this role with control and intensity. She creates a character who is constantly teaching her family the lessons they need to know. She is the matriarch who rules with an iron fist. Her veneer softens slightly in Act 2 when she is listening to Bella share her desire to be in a relationship with Johnny.

Sleeping quarters in this Yonkers apartment are tight at best, but one night the boys must make room on their pull out couch bed for one more Kurnitz when Uncle Louie shows up. Jason Query plays the big, boisterous gangster Louie. Mr. Query brings a wonderful exuberance and charm to this character. He makes us laugh and also makes us hope that Hollywood Harry doesn’t get him. Jason’s Louie is dangerous and carefree at the same time.

We hear about Gert well before we meet her. That’s the beauty of this script. When Gert, played by Rachelle Stoops, shows up near the end of the play we already know her whole story. Ms. Stoops brings an elegance to the character which surprised me. This approach to the character got me wondering if Gert found a way to live past her circumstances.

Tom Crew (director) gets his actors talking to each other and creates a charming balanced production.

Patrick Lambrecht’s set serves the play well and fits nicely into the Haymarket space.

Andy Dillehay’s costumes help us (the audience) know more about each of the characters.

All theatrical productions are the culmination of hours of rehearsal and the hard work of balancing technical needs with budget. Tom Crew’s production is simple and honest and well worth seeing, especially if you have young thespians in your family. It’s great to see young people onstage playing fully realized, richly written characters.

Go see this production! The theatre needs your support. The actors need an audience to hear the beautiful story they are sharing and you (as a serious theatre goer) need to experience Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers.”

If you go, the Haymarket Theatre is located in Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket at 803 Q Street. Ticket prices are $15 Adults, $12 Students/Seniors, and $10 for UNL 112 Theatre Students. The Box Office opens 1 hour before each show. Showtimes for “Lost In Yonkers” are August 30 & 31 at 7:30pm and September 2 at 2pm. For more information go to their website at haymarkettheatre.org, email them at info@haymarkettheatre.org or call  402-477-2600.

Judy Hart has been making and teaching theatre on the east coast and Nebraska since 1978. She is the founder and director of Lincoln’s Angels Theatre Company.

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