Ballarat National Theatre

Lost in Yonkers



It’s the middle of World War II, although not directly for several generations of the Kurnitz family in their cramped flat over the candy store in Yonkers, New York. That’s not to say there isn’t a war on.... The battles in this household arise across and between the generations, the conflicts arising from a background of this Jewish family growing up in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Neil Simon is well known for his comedies but this drama strikingly accentuates the strains that impact on individuals in such circumstances and how these strains affect their relationships in that most intimate of situations – within a family unit. It couldn’t be a Simon play without humour, and certainly not one about a Jewish family.

Through the two stars of this play, two teenage brothers, the stresses are relieved by observations that only adolescents can provide. A gripping and poignant piece.


July 2nd, 6th, 7th 8th at 8pm
July 3rd & 9th at 2pm

Director & Cast

Hedley Thomson

Hedley Thomson

Janette Baxter

Janette Baxter

Plays Bella
Kelly Jane Harrison

Kelly Jane Harrison

Plays Grandma Kurnitz
Zach McLellan

Zach McLellan

Plays Arty
Linda Ogier

Linda Ogier

Plays Gert
Ben Plazzer

Ben Plazzer

Plays Eddie
James Wait

James Wait

Plays Jay
Lee Taylor

Lee Taylor

Plays Louie

Review of “Lost In Yonkers” by John Williams 1 July 2016

Whenever one walks into a Neil Simon play one looks forward to a great evening of sharp comedy dia-logue and a story to tell.  The BNT’s production of Neil Simon’s ‘Lost In Yonkers’ does not disappoint.  This very able cast  portrays a play that, whilst witty in a mordant Jewish way, also carries a serious message....the lasting effect of love withheld, on the members of a family; the Kurnitz Family.

Very briefly, the story concerns two teenage brothers who have recently lost their mother and who are left by their father, Eddie, to be cared for by their stern German Jewish Grandmother and their mid-thirtyish, frustrated Aunt Bella, along with their likeable but hoodlum Uncle Louie. The boys are soon awakeup to the situation and they quickly learn to cope with their overbearing Grandmother by stand-ing up to her, which is the very thing that pleases her and her belief in the character-building effect of personal hardship.

The Direction, by Hedley Thomson, is tight and consistent which holds the play with its changing moods together very well. The set is a single room throughout, which is a blessing for stagehands, and the action takes place here with the exception of small lit scenes just off-set, of the Father, Eddie, writ-ing home from far places in the USA. The overhead rail sound effect evokes New York perfectly.
The boys, the laid-back Arty and a thoughtful, controlled Jay were played by Zach McLellan and James Wait who both conveyed their contrasting characters very convincingly and with a fine ear for the nu-ances of the dialogue. Bella, played delightfully by Janette Baxter, is the boys’ warm-hearted Aunt who welcomes them, and is in turn supported by them as she tries to break free from her mother’s domineer-ing presence and find true love. The father, Eddie, played by Ben Plazzer, is very convincing as the lov-ing father stressed by finances and affected in childhood by his steely mother, working as a travelling salesman to clear debt, and reclaim his children. Lee Taylor plays the shady, volatile but likeable Uncle Louie to great effect, telling Jay bluntly the great lesson in life; play it straight and not to follow in his footsteps. The other sister Gert (Linda Ogier) played a perfect cameo as the mousey, wheezing asthma-ish Aunt coming timidly to visit with her mother.

Kelly Jane Harrison played the archetypical Jewish Grandmother with great control and stage presence. Damaged emotionally in early life by the war and the loss of husband and children, she has raised a family affected by these harsh realities and has been unable to give the love usual in a normal family in normal times, except in her own unyielding way.  Her children have all fled her influence except for Bella, but have all carried the stresses of their childhoods into adult life.

Neil Simon has given us a moving story of the damaging effects that such a childhood can have on a   family and the ways in which the children grow and learn to cope.

 Lost in Yonkers plays from Wednesday through Saturday at the Courthouse Theatre. Visit the website for more information bnt.org.au.


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