My name is Leah Mazade, and I’m playing Grandma Kurnitz in the play. I’ve been working in DC area theater for a number of years, both acting (for example, in such roles as Lotte in Lettice and Lovage, Mary Tyrone in Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Queen Elizabeth in Mary Stuart, and Medea and Cleopatra) and, at times, directing (productions of The Alchemist and Uncle Vanya, among others).
Please give us your name, part you are playing in Neil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers, and a brief description of your theatrical background.
What enticed you into auditioning for Lost in Yonkers?
The part of Grandma is a wonderful role. I’d played her last year in a production at Prince George’s Little Theatre and was hoping to try it again.
How would you describe Lost in Yonkers to your friends and family, and why is it still relevant to today’s audiences?
The play is beautifully written, with wonderful characters that over the course of the play you grow to care about. It’s still relevant because it deals with the joys and angst of family life and relationships, which in some respects don’t change with the decades.
Grandma Kurnitz is a strong, tough lady. How do you work with such a character and not make it appear one-sided?
In working on a character, I always try to understand why that character does what she does, which ultimately means understanding what she’s trying to achieve during the play. I have a great deal of sympathy for Grandma. It seems to me that she is focused on (at least) two big things: ensuring the survival of her family and protecting herself from the pain of loss. The methods she employs to gain those ends certainly aren’t the kindest or the most conventional, but she believes, in large part, that they’re absolutely necessary. The text of the play makes clear that she’s not an ogre: Neil Simon takes care to present some of her history and what has shaped her character, thus revealing her motives. Part of the overall “journey” of the play, then, is how Grandma begins to change and come to something approaching a reconciliation with her children and grandchildren.