Showcasing a young actor

Paragon: `Lost in Yonkers,' seldom staged in the county, features a 14-year-old actor in a play that combines humor and harsh reality.

March 29, 2001|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Since its founding in the summer of 1998, Paragon Theatre has offered uncommon shows on its compact stage at Trifles Restaurant in Crownsville - a 65-seat venue with full-service dining.

With the latest production, Paragon is continuing its tradition of bringing unfamiliar plays to its audiences - even when the playwright is the prodigious Neil Simon.

The show is Simon's Pulitzer Prize-winning 27th play, "Lost in Yonkers," a work that has rarely been done in Anne Arundel County.

Following his autobiographical trilogy of "Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Biloxi Blues" and "Broadway Bound," Simon's "Yonkers" also has that kind of storytelling tone. It tells of a widowed father, in debt from paying his wife's hospital bills, placing his sons Arty and Jay with his mother so he can work on the road in a defense job. The boys live with their cruel grandmother above her candy store in Yonkers, where they manage to survive despite constant punishment by the grandmother and her abusiveness toward her dysfunctional children.

Paragon founder Gregory Kemper said he selected "Lost in Yonkers" because it combines humor with harsh reality, has garnered a number of awards - Pulitzer, Tony, Drama Critics - and has seldom played in this area.

But his "major reason," Kemper added, is actor Lex Davis, 14.

Kemper said he and his father, Paragon co-founder Herman Kemper, performed with Lex in a 1997 Vagabond Theatre production of "Inherit the Wind" in Baltimore's Fells Point and felt that he had "great promise."

"Since then, we've been looking for the perfect vehicle for Lex - keeping in mind that he was growing 2 or 3 inches every year. I believe this play is it. Lex is playing the part of Arty and alternating in the part of Jay, a huge challenge for this young Baltimorean, who is an eighth-grader at Friends School.

"We're also fortunate to have 11th-grade Glenelg High School student Jake Hartman also making his Paragon debut playing Jay. And Patrick Clague, a 13-year-old resident of Calvert County, will play the role of Arty when Lex plays Jay," Kemper said.

Maria Lakkala, last seen as Mrs. Van Dann in Paragon's "The Diary of Anne Frank," portrays Bella, the boys' wacky aunt. Joan Corcoran of Catonsville is the vicious grandmother who regularly metes out punishment to young Arty and Jay. Keri Johnson of Annapolis makes her Paragon debut as the boys' Aunt Gert.

An unusual aspect of this show is that Gregory Kemper will play two roles - as the boys' hard-working father, Eddie, and as their small-time gangster uncle, Eddie's brother Louie.

Always welcoming a challenge, the 33-year-old veteran actor explains that he is able to play both roles because there is a 15-minute lapse between the appearances of the two characters.

"Lost in Yonkers" plays on weekends through May 20.

On Fridays and Saturdays, dinner is at 6 p.m. with performances at 8 p.m. On Sundays, dinner begins at 5 p.m. and the show at 7 p.m.

The audience can enjoy the show and a full-service menu that includes appetizer, entree, beverage and dessert for $35.

Trifles Restaurant is at 1397 Generals Highway in Crownsville.

Reservations or information: 410-923-6600.

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