By Dawn Watson
“Lost in Yonkers” is just one of the more than 80 plays that George Loizides has directed in his lifetime. But the coming-of-age story is more than a number in a crowd; it’s a personal favorite.
The stage veteran counts this particular Neil Simon-penned “hybrid interweaving of dramatic and comedic elements” as the inimitable playwright’s best work. He should know, he’s been acting and directing for four decades and has worked on several variations of the great American playwright’s work, including “Barefoot in the Park” and male and female versions of “The Odd Couple.”
After getting his start at HB Studio in Manhattan, led by famed stage actress Uta Hagen and founder Herbert Berghof, Mr. Loizides spent nearly 30 years teaching theater arts at Ward Melville High School and working on a number of community productions. East Enders most likely know him best from his work behind the scenes and on the stage at the Hampton Theatre Company in Quogue, where he returns for his fourth production to helm “Lost in Yonkers,” staging from Thursday, March 31 through April 17.
Considered by many to be Mr. Simon’s best play in a string of hits—including “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” “Biloxi Blues” and “The Goodbye Girl”—“Lost in Yonkers” is a dramatic tale about two young boys who must find their way in the world after the death of their mother. After relocating to their stern grandmother’s house to move in with her and their unusual aunt, the pair scheme about how to get their hands on enough money to move out fast and return to their father’s home. Along the way, they must also brave the return of their long-lost uncle, who is on the lam from gangsters; a second strange and unfamiliar aunt; the death of their beloved mother; and loss of their travelling salesman father.
“If you know the play at all, you know that it’s not a typical Neil Simon comedy, and it’s a unique play in that respect I think,” says Mr. Loizides. “Even though it’s not a comedy, it’s packed with both elements of comedy and drama. And it’s definitely a show where you will be entertained, laugh and feel for many of the characters. I think it’s Simon’s best play.”
This East End production of the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning play stars Jamie Baio, Christopher Darrin, Diana Marbury, Rebecca Edana, Edward Kassar, Catherine Maloney and Russell Weisenbacher. It’s a good mix of familiar faces and new talent, says the director.
Newcomers to the Quogue stage include Mr. Baio, a Sayville High School junior who plays the lead role of Jay, and Mr. Darrin, an experienced 12-year-old actor who tackles the role of younger brother Arty. Both young men are well placed in their parts, says Mr. Loizides.
“They are both delightful, actually,” the director reports. “They are both familiar with the stage and the terminology, are honest and energetic, and they fit into the family nicely. It’s been a very good experience for them and everyone else.”
“Once you learn the basics, the rest is talent,” he continues. “The biggest difference between working with kids and adults, generally, is the adults are usually taller and older,” he laughs.
The young actors are supported on the stage by a handful of returning favorites, including Ms. Marbury, who plays the role of Grandma Kurnitz; Ms. Edana as aunt Bella; Mr. Kassar, as Louie, the hoodlum uncle; Mr. Weisenbacher, who plays the boys’ father, Eddie; as well as Ms. Maloney, who plays the role of traumatized aunt Gert.
“It’s a very strong company. When you’re here, you know you’re going to get everything top-notch,” says Mr. Loizides. “It’s an excellent group of actors and behind-the-scenes crew.”
Right now the ensemble cast and production team is readying for opening night next Thursday. The actors are “off book,” meaning that they have their lines memorized, and everyone is gearing up for their first “tech” rehearsal, which is a full run-through of the play with all the blocking and technical elements in place. It’s a finely tuned machine, thanks to the work of the entire HTC family, says Mr. Loizides.
“We’re in decent shape. It’s good to have experienced people who are strong as can be,” he says. “I think that will translate to the audience, and they’ll really enjoy the show.”
“Lost in Yonkers” opens on Thursday, March 31,and runs through April 17 at the Quogue Community Hall on Jessup Avenue in Quogue. Show times are Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. For tickets and additional information, visit www.hamptontheatre.org or call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111.