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Teens help bring dysfunction to life

By Carrie Humphreys
Coastal Observer

The Murrells Inlet Community Theater opened its 13th season with "Lost in Yonkers," the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning comedy/drama written by Neil Simon.

The play is a family affair showcasing a grandmother, her four children and two grandsons. Considered to be Simon's best work and the pinnacle of his career, the play deals with survival, the importance of one's family and acceptance.

"Simon has invited us into the home of a Jewish family during World War II and shows the struggles and realities of their lives from August 1942 until June 1943," said Doris Hudson, who is directing her third production for the theater group.

Among the cast of seven are two teenagers, a first for the community theater.

Hudson explained that the theater board was eager to do something different.

"Even though they've done other Neil Simon shows, this one was selected because it had young people in it," she said.

Hudson and her assistant, Dave Mooney, found local talent to fulfill the young roles.

Vinnie Linquito, an eighth-grader from Myrtle Beach, plays Arty. Linquito calls himself a singer who also acts. He's been singing since he was 3, he said, and believes his future will be on stage.

"Lost in Yonkers" is his most professional experience so far, although he has just been cast in a Christmas production at the Palace Theater.

He was a bit intimidated with all the lines he had to learn to play Arty. "I was unprepared for that. But then they just came to me," Linquito said.

Hudson taught him a lot.

"Like stage right and left, upstage and downstage. And all about the 1940s and World War II and the Germans and Jews. She explained it all," he said.

Linquito shares the teen spotlight with Lenny Janes, a senior at Waccamaw High School. Janes discovered acting four years ago and is president of his school's drama club.

"I was planning on doing the military, but then I found the theater and love it more than anything else," he said.

Hudson has helped him flourish in his role as Jay. "She's an English teacher, like my dad. We got along well. She’s been fantastic," Janes said.

"I told these kids from the get-go that they had to be at every single rehearsal. There was no way they could miss any," Hudson said.

It took effort, according to Linquito. "Being at every rehearsal was really, really hard," he said. "Really rough."

Yet they did it.

"These boys were always on time and ready to go and are doing a fine job in their roles. They've impressed the adult members of the cast, I'll tell you,” said Hudson. "I'm so happy to be working with young people again after having taught dramatic arts in high school for many years. I've missed having them as part of a cast. It's been neat to have them."

Cast member Dennis McGrath, who was born and raised in Yonkers, N.Y., said the boys were doing a great job.

"They were cast early last summer, so they've had a lot of time and have worked out well. This is a major undertaking for them. They certainly are the focus of the whole show," he said.

Indeed, "Lost in Yonkers" centers on the two teens who are left in the care of their terrifying and intimidating grandmother (Mary Ann Randall) and the sweet, but mentally slow aunt Bella (Sally Arnett). Their desperate father, Eddie (Sam Suppa), works as a traveling salesman to pay off debts incurred following the death of his wife.

Also complicating matters are Eddie’s brother, Louie (McGrath), a small-time, tough-talking hoodlum on the lam, and sister Gert (Teresa Paul), who suffers from breathing problems that are more psychological than physical.

This is definitely a dysfunctional family.

"As an audience, I would wonder if this family is going to survive. But if we think about Simon, we know his characters will find a way," Hudson said.

Although the play is humorous, it is at the same time quite heartbreaking.

"In this play I think Simon wants us to understand the sacrifice the Jews have made," Hudson said. "You meet this mother from Germany, who at first you don't like, but then begin to see what she has had to deal with and you come to respect her; and the two sons, one of whom is widowed and the other may be in the mob, we're never quite sure; and the two daughters, one who can't speak clearly and one who can't think clearly."

Hudson said bringing the play to the stage has been a challenge.

"There is such depth of character in these roles." Hudson said. "Some of the actors have extensive experience, others, not so much. I'm enjoying watching the cast meet the challenge of this work."

"Lost in Yonkers" continues at the Murrells Inlet Inlet Community Center on Oct. 29 at 8 p.m., Oct. 30 at 2 and 8 p.m., and Oct. 31 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 651-4152.

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