Saturday, May 16, 2015

Memo From The RTC: Lost in Yonkers Played to Packed Houses

I've become so involved in working with the Rockaway Theatre Company, my political activities have been affected. Increasingly, given a choice, I'd rather be at the theater than at some meeting. And how great that I am less than a 10-minute drive away?

Last night we rehearsed the crap shooting dance of Guys and Dolls where I am an on-looker, not a dancer. I play Liver-Lips Louie and get to toss some dice - and lose. I also play a Texas tourist in the opening scene and get to chase a 22 year old around the stage after he steals my wallet. I asked them to have a defibrillator handy.

Here is my final report on the play just completed.

Lost in Yonkers Played to Packed Houses

By Norm Scott 

Andrew Feldman and Steven Wagner.  
Andrew Feldman and Steven Wagner.

In a show of spectacular performances by every actor, it was the awesome performance of the four kids alternating playing the roles of brothers Jay and Arty in the Rockaway Theatre Company production of Lost in Yonkers that blew people away.

How can a small theater based in Fort Tilden on the outskirts of the city, manage to attract such young talent? How could first-time director David Risley put the fate of a play that hinged on top level performances from teenagers in their hands?

So I went back four times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. With Raimondo Graziano (17 and in the 11th grade) and Steven Wagner (13 and in the seventh grade), both students at Scholars’ Academy here in Rockaway – alternating in playing the older Jay, not a beat was lost in handling this demanding role. Thirteen year old Park Slope resident Aidan Lawrence, who attends Bay Ridge Prep, shared the role of Arty with Andrew Feldman. Arty had the funniest lines, which had to be delivered with perfection to get laughs. And the boys didn’t miss a beat.

Raimondo Graziano, Lynda Browning and Andrew Feldman.  
Raimondo Graziano, Lynda Browning and Andrew Feldman.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to an RTC play where the audience laughed so consistently and loudly at every single one of the six performances. What was interesting was how all four boys brought their own interpretation to the roles.

And I loved how David mixed and matched them so that they all had the chance to play with different partners. I had to do some math to figure this out; Raimondo with Andrew and Aidan, as well as Steven with Andrew and Aidan. Do you know how hard that is? Getting the timing and the relationship down with different actors? Before I saw this in front of my eyes I thought David was nuts.

Lynda Browning, Steven Wagner, Aidan Lawrence, Kim Simek, Steve Ryan and Susan Corning.  
Lynda Browning, Steven Wagner, Aidan Lawrence, Kim Simek, Steve Ryan and Susan Corning.

Last week, I wrote about the adults – the powerhouse performances of Lynda Browning as Bella, Susan Corning as Grandma Kurnitz and Stephen Ryan as Louie. They delivered in every single performance, though sometimes they would say “I’m glad you taped tonight, I killed it.” I thought they always killed it.

I didn’t get to talk much about the other key supporting roles – Eddie, the boys’ dad and Gert, the aunt with breathing problems. RTC newcomer, but veteran actor Bob Alpert was top notch in the crucial role of the damaged dad whose wife had just died and deep in debt to loan sharks, which sets up the premise of the play – that he had to go on the road to make money and was forced to leave the boys with the tyrannical grandma.

Veteran RTC actors Kim Simek and Jessica Mintzes shared the role of the equally damaged Gert, whose every slip of dialogue had to finish with a breathing problem. Watching them both navigate that was a marvel.

Let me not stop without congratulating the wonderful Suzanne Riggs for her stage managing, which included dressing the set with so many of her personal family belongings evoking the early ‘40s. Is there anyone who does not love Suzanne for her giving personality and support for everyone involved in the theater? She was assisted by another remarkable teenager, Mia Melchiorri as assistant stage manager, who with her crew managed to open and close the sleep away couch time and again between scenes without a hitch,

On Monday, I joined the Tony Homsey crew in taking down the set – always a sad occasion. But we are beginning to build the Guys and Dolls set for its late June opening. I have a bit part in that play, as does pretty much everyone in Rockaway – and beyond. I can’t wait to try to fit into the dressing room. What thrills me is that so many kids are involved in that show and the interactions backstage will be as much fun as what happens on stage. I’ll write more about these remarkable theater kids in future columns.

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