Friday, April 24, 2015

Lost in Yonkers at the RTC - Opening night tonight - Norm in the Wave

Memo from the RTC: Lost in Yonkers Opening Night Friday, April 24
By Norm Scott

When I heard the Rockaway Theatre Company was doing Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers”, a play I had not seen, I watched the movie version on TCM.  Given it was a Neil Simon play, while still funny, I was surprised at the level of serious drama  involved in the story and blown away by the performance by Mercedes Ruehl as Aunt Bella, who should have run an academy award. I still haven’t seen the play, but an looking forward to the April 24 opening night at the RTC. There is so much complexity and depth to this story.

Here is a quick synopsis  from Wikipedia:
“Brooklyn, 1942, Evelyn Kurnitz has just died following a lengthy illness. Her husband, Eddie Kurnitz, needs to take a job as a traveling salesman to pay off the medical bills incurred, and decides to ask his stern and straight talking mother, from whom he is slightly estranged, if his two early-teen sons, Jay and Arty can live with her and their Aunt Bella Kurnitz in Yonkers. She reluctantly agrees after a threat by Bella. Despite their Grandma owning and operating a candy store, Jay and Arty don't like their new living situation as they're afraid of their Grandma, and find it difficult to relate to their crazy Aunt Bella, whose slow mental state is manifested by perpetual excitability and a short attention span, which outwardly comes across as a childlike demeanor. Into their collective lives returns one of Eddie and Bella's other siblings, Louie Kurnitz, a henchman for some gangsters. He is hiding out from Hollywood Harry, who wants what Louie stole and is hiding in his small black bag. Jay and Arty's mission becomes how to make money fast so that they can help their father and move back in together, which may entail stealing the $15,000 their Grandma has hidden somewhere. Bella's mission is to find a way to tell the family that she wants to get married to Johnny, her equally slow movie theater usher boyfriend; the two could also use $5,000 of Grandma's hidden money to open their dream restaurant. And Louie's mission is to survive the next couple of days.”

I worked with master builder Tony Homsey and his crew in building the set, which is the apartment above the candy store.  We put final touches on last Friday and I noticed how the set is dressed with such wonderful details. I wish the audiences could go on stage to explore the photos and other brilliant “40s” touches. (See cast photo.) Here are some comments from the cast and crew.

Steve Ryan: People connect to Lost in Yonkers because Simon touches on harsh realities that many will deal with at one point or another in their lives; loss of a parent, loss of a child, lack of affection, leaving home.  Everyone will leave the play thinking about this family, and admitting (perhaps not out loud) that the Kurnitz family could easily be their own. 

Lynda Browning: I'll be playing Bella. It's no surprise that Neil Simon won the Pulitzer for this play. It's so beautifully written and the characters are so real. Playing Bella has been challenging but so rewarding. And you couldn't have asked for a better cast, director or crew to work with. Everyone is so supportive of each other and we're having so much fun!

Susan Corning: I am absolutely thrilled to be in the cast of Neil Simon's Pulitzer Prize winning drama. The role of Grandma Kurnitz is the most complex and unique character that I have ever had the opportunity to portray, and I love the challenge of bringing her to life. Director David Risley has such a passion for this project, and has put together what I consider a dream team- production, cast and crew. I have the pleasure of working with four amazing talented young actors, who play my grandsons. It is wonderful to watch their characters grow and our relationships develop. My favorite moments is when I get to share the stage with the incredibly talented Lynda Browning, a dream that has finally come true for me.

Suzanne Riggs, Stage Manager: I think any Neil Simon fan would love to see this show because it's beautifully done. This set is fantastic and the boys (all 4 in the double casting) are very endearing as the two brothers. I'm excited because this set is comprised of a lot of my aunt Martha and uncle Harry Raphael's original furniture. They lived in the Rockaways from the very early 1900s and started the first taxi cab service on beach 116th St. So I feel this show has a lot of them in it and it's like a happy memory for me seeing their things on the stage.

Performances: Apr. 24, 25, May 1, 2 – 8PM, Apr. 26, May 3: 2PM

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