Here’s a lengthy, generous interview from DC Theatre Scene’s Joel Markowitz with Lost in Yonkers’ cast members Holly Twyford, Kyle Schliefer, and Max Talisman. We’ll excerpt a bit here and encourage you to read the whole megillah at dctheatrescene.com. Great stuff!
Lost in Yonkers: Holly Twyford, Max Talisman and Kyle Schliefer
November 20, 2009 by Joel Markowitz
In his autobiography “The Play Goes on”, Neil Simon talked about creating the role of Bella. “The boys (Arty and Jay) needed a confidant, someone who would be a buffer between them and their grandmother. I invented Aunt Bella. About thirty-six or thirty-seven, and still living with her mother, working in the candy store from the early morning till closing time; even giving the back rubs and leg rubs to ease her pain. There would have to be something wrong with Bella as a sweet, shy, and nervous woman, but loving her two nephews. It wasn’t enough. With a mother whose only concern is that her children survive, without love, without warmth, without affection, they would have to become a dysfunctional family.
In the next draft, Bella changed. She was almost retarded, but not in a clinical way. Her growth as a human being was stunted. She became a fifteen-year-old child in the body if a thirty-eight-year-old woman, with all the desires and needs of a mature woman, but with the inability to understand these desires. With Arty and Jay moving in, we see Bella happier than she’s ever been before, even though Jay, fourteen, and Arty, about twelve, seem more grown up than she is.”
Who better than to play the difficult role of Bella than three-time Helen Hayes Award winner Holly Twyford? Holly wraps her arms around Theater J audiences, cuddles them, and never lets go. You laugh and cry, and cheer as she becomes more confident and finally takes on the “matriarch from hell”. It would be easy to overact in this role, but Holly never does, and that’s why critics and audiences are raving about her heart-warming, assertive, and zany performance.
Joel: What is Lost In Yonkers about from Bella’s point of view?
Holly: Bella’s attitude is that to which we should all aspire … she wants to be happy. She’s not sure how to get there, but she knows that something has to change. When the boys arrive, I think she sees a chance, when she forces her mother to take them in, it’s not just for them and for Eddie, it’s because Bella knows that some sort of change can maybe begin with their presence.
Joel: How do you relate to Bella?
Holly: A professor in school used to say “find the love in the scene”, and he didn’t just mean in the scene or the play but in the character … one always needs to fall in love with the character. I’m sure there’s a bit of Holly in all my characters, hopefully more on the inside, and not the outside.
Joel: How did you prepare for the role?
Read Holly’s answer and the rest of the interview here.
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How did Neil Simon create the two brothers Arty and Jay in Lost in Yonkers? In the opening scene where we are introduced to Grandmother, it was originally planned that there would be just one son – Jay. “This leaves the young boy, Jay, sitting by himself in the living room, not even knowing his life is being discussed a few feet away from him. But how do we know what his thoughts are? What fears he has? No problem. I give Jay a younger brother, Arty. Now they can discuss at length how much they fear the grandmother and hope that Pop will come out soon, so they can all leave. We’ve not only established the brothers and their plight, we know a great deal about Grandma Kurnitz long before she makes an appearance.”
Who better than to play Arty and Jay than two friends who have appeared on the stage together in the past – Max Talisman and Kyle Schliefer?
I’m a big fan of Max and Kyle. I saw them perform together at Musical Theater Center, and have followed their careers closely, because these are two talented young actors who have a bright future ahead of them.
Many theatre goers will recognize Max from his astounding vocal performance as Noah Gellman in Studio Theatre’s Helen Hayes Award winning production of Caroline, or Change. This is the first time he’s appeared in a non-singing role. Audiences will remember Kyle as Eric in Round House Theatre’s production of Lord of the Flies, and Rooster in Classika Theatre’s production of The Bremen Musicians.
Joel: What is Lost In Yonkers about from the point of view of Arty and Jay?
Max: Lost in Yonkers from the point of view of Arty is a tale of brotherhood. Arty and his brother Jay are best friends. The play is about how they stick together through tough family trials. The brothers stick it out through the crazy – but loving – Aunt Bella and the scary and intimidating Grandmother. For me, Arty’s story is also Jay’s story, because they stick together, and their friendship and love for each other grow deeper.
Kyle: From Jay’s perspective, Lost In Yonkers is in one sense his transition from boyhood into manhood. At the beginning of the play, Jay is left in a situation completely out of his control. He feels the solution is finding Grandma’s money, and bringing his father back home. What he ends up learning, and what actually starts his transition into manhood, is the importance of family. He gets many lessons from his encounters with Aunt Bella, Louie, Gert, and even Grandma. He ends up loving people and accepting them for who they are. At end of the show, he even tells Grandma he has learned a lot from her. “some good, and some bad,” but he got the lessons.
Read the rest of Joel’s interview with “the boys” here.