Back and Forth and Back (and Forth) on the Bus: Judy Gold (with update!), Zero Hour (with video), and Yonkers (with love) Keeps Rolling In

So we closed LOST IN YONKERS back on Sunday. On Monday, headed up to New York Theatre Workshop to see an afternoon reading of an even-more improved version of BENEDICTUS, the Motti Lerner script based on his collaboration with Iranian theater artists Mahmood Karimi-Hakak and Torange Yeghiazarian. It was wonderful to meet with Motti over dinner after and talk about his new project, a potential collaboration involving Theater J and one of Israel’s most distinguished flagship institutions. It’s too soon to share more details. Suffice to say, the collaboration lives on as we continue to support this brave and prolific Israeli writer on new works as well as pushing recently produced work onto next productions in New York and beyond.

After returning to DC Tuesday morning for IN DARFUR production meetings and some catch up time with my family, I was back on the bus to New York on Wednesday for the start of rehearsals for Judy Gold’s new show. Judy’s collaborator on 25 QUESTIONS FOR A JEWISH MOTHER, Kate Moira Ryan, has been brought into the collaborative process and has helped to focus, punch, and make more poignant the journey Judy goes on in her latest iteration of MOMMY QUEEREST (now with the additional sub-title: “IT’S JEWDY’S SHOW”) which is the running bit in this very funny frame for Judy’s journey; that she’s consumed with getting her own TV Sitcom so that her two kids can see their lives reflected and finally accepted by mainstream culture. Judy grew up a bit of a misfit, towering over her peers and proverbially out of place and sought refuge and quick emotional fixes in the sitcoms of the 60s and 70s. Her kids seek the same. But is America ready for a gay, feminist, kosher SEINFELD? Why can’t Judy get legally married in the Jew state of New York? Pungent and funny and revealing, the play’s a brand new work of art, wildly different from the version I saw at Joe’s Pub 8 months ago. And so, willy nilly, we’re working on a new play with a great team and it’s a lot of work in a hurry and a very exciting time to be launching a culturally up to the minute new show starring an indomitable talent. And I’m not even talking about Sandra Bernhard right now! It’s JEWDY’S SHOW, damnit (as she’s no doubt punctuate it).

And guess what? I’m heading up again right now, as I type this, for rehearsal #3 now that Kate has sent a top to bottom rewrite after Monday’s excellent rehearsal and feedback session.

* * * And here’s the update: I’ve read the script on Megabus – Laughing Out Loud throughout – Cried twice – show’s in great shape! Great meeting just now (I’m revising this in nyc) with director Amanda Charlton while Judy keeps practicing the piano – couldn’t be happier! So much for the update.) * * *

Tonight I finally see ZERO HOUR in its New York iteration. I’ll be seeing the show with RISE AND FALL OF ANNIE HALL playwright Sam Forman (who has a new play he just sent me, I’ll be reading it as soon as I’m done reading the rewrite of Jewdy!) And herein I share with you video from the opening night of ZERO HOUR, courtesy or our superstar buddy, Steve Schalchlin.

Finally, I share with you a bundle of encomiums from LOST IN YONKERS. Check out this Final Round Up of Wonderful Words from Audience members writing into Becky:
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A Final Rave For a Great Production (closing today!)

From: djhoffmanscreen
Sent:
Thursday, November 26, 2009 9:15 AM

On LOST IN YONKERS and MOMMY QUEEREST

Diane Perleman and I together were completely privileged last night to have seen your wholly humane and richly comic and touchingly wonderful production of the Neil Simon classic “Lost in Yonkers,” so obviously the choice for both Tony and Pulitzer status on Broadway in 1991.

You have all surely reminded us of Simon’s stature as a great American “dramatic” playwright individually, who ought not be confined to the category of comedy alone, and also of the status of this play in particular in the canon of Broadway and even beyond the Great White Way in the tradition of thoughtful, indeed no-holds-barred exploration of family and character, the very human fundament beneath all ethnic or religious surfaces, whether Jewish-American or anything-American.

Bravo to you Ari as Theater J’s artistic director and also to Jerry Whiddon the director of this play, and the two marvelous boy actors: the seriously gifted Kyle Schliefer and sweet-faced and future Tony-award-winner Max Talisman, and also for stealing more than his share of the show, to the sly Uncle Louie of Marcus Kyd. Every boy should have an Uncle Louie — or just fuggetaboutit.

And of course a myriad of bravas go to the play’s mother-daughter acting twins, that brilliantly talented pair together again, of Holly Twyford — who is easily the equal of that other classic character of drama, the fragile yet steely daughter, Laura, in Williams’ Glass Menagerie – and finally Herself, forever-Grandma-cold-but-underneath-it-all-just-barely-vulnerable: the formidable Tana Hickern. I would eat Her soup and like it!

If only I had seen your play when there was still time for me to review it for the 160,000 households in northern Virginia which are delivered the FAIRFAX COUNTY TIMES (a weekly newspaper now owned by the Washington Post-Newsweek company), it would have been reviewed there properly of course! But our next issue doesn’t come out until next Wednesday, after “Lost in Yonkers” has, alas, closed.

So let the aforementioned thoughts stand as the review – in part – that I would have written had our printing presses been better timed to help shower “Lost in Yonkers” with the kudos it so richly merits. There is a huge potential audience in Fairfax County that deserves to be alerted to the incredible corpus of work at Theatre J! In the future, so let it be said, so let it be written!

Nearly finally, I want to see your next production — “Mommie Queerest” (running December 16-January 3) — this time well in time for review in the paper, at its Press Night Sunday, December 20 at 7:30 PM!

And – now – finally, I’m just glad that I met Ari and Shirley at J Street, which I attended courtesy of Diane Perleman’s earlier heads-up, though I had in fact known Jeremy, when he was Policy Director, from the days of mutual work on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in 2003-2004.

thanks again,
David Hoffman

and yes, feel free to use anything written above as you may see fit in any future promotional materials.

One More Reason To Give Thanks

Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 7:58 PM

To: DCJCC Information

Subject: TheaterJ – Lost in Yonkers

Hello,
At the suggestion of a friend, who’d seen the show, I bought a last minute ticket to LOST IN YONKERS and was in the audience on Sunday afternoon. I am sorry to say that it was my first visit to the restored JCC. Its a very inviting and well-maintained facility. The box office attendant asked if I was eligible for a senior price for my ticket. Should I be annoyed that she though I was older than I am – I’m 58? Or delighted that she wanted to give me the best deal that she could? LOL.

I make the comment about the senior discount because I believe it was the latter rather than the former and applaud anyone who tries to do their best for a customer. The other attendants were similarly customer friendly. The theater itself is welcoming and intimate. That, by itself, makes me want to attend future performances.

And the production? Its always hard to lose with a Neil Simon script. But wow! Maybe it wasn’t worthy of a Tony, but it was excellent. The set and costumes were perfect. All of the performers were at least very good, and three – the two female leads and the younger child – were superb. Kudos to TheaterJ.
Plus I had the good fortune to bump into a man during intermission who was my very good boss 20 some odd years ago! I’ll be paying more attention to what the JCC has to offer.

David…
Attorney at Law

* * *

David,

What a great Thanksgiving gift to us! We so appreciate the feedback – everyone at Theater J works very hard to create a sense of community and family. We welcome you into the fold.

Have a lovely Thanksgiving holiday and we look forward to seeing you soon at the 16th Street J. Check out all our other programs at http://www.washingtondcjcc.org .

Until then,
Margaret Hahn Stern
Chief Operating Officer, Washington DCJCC
Creativity, Community and Connection—find it all at the 16th Street J—your Center in the City.


* * *

Dear Margaret,

I mentioned my experience to a co-worker today who also saw the show last weekend. He agreed with my assessment. Throw that into your gift package!

People who do good work are too often under-appreciated. And others too often fail to express appreciation.

David

Last Round of Press for LOST IN YONKERS

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.

* * *

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.