Finding Humor in Yonkers

Riverside Brings Pulitzer Prize-Winning Play to Vero

Bella, played by actress Emily Berman, is adoring, quirky, and fun to watch in Riverside Theatre’s production of Lost in Yonkers.
Photo courtesy of Riverside Theatre.

Allen Cornell said it best – “Your phone, computer, iPad, etc. are devices that allow us to communicate almost instantaneously, but at the expense of personal contact. We are simply not engaging in a personal and, ultimately, human manner as we once did.”

These were his words in the program for Lost in Yonkers, one of the current productions at Riverside Theatre.

Cornell is the Producing Artistic Director/CEO at Riverside, and his words ring true to a plethora of people. So many modern day individuals are lacking the personal interactions that are tried and true. Technology is the reason, or excuse, for that, and to be able to relish in a live production of a classic production should be appealing to those at all ages.

Bella is scolded by her mother as the boys attempt to sleep on their bed – which is conveniently the fold out couch in Grandma Kurnitz’s living room.
Photo courtesy of Riverside Theatre.

Fun facts about this production of Lost in Yonkers:

It took 22 hours to completely erect the set on stage by a total of nine people.

888 square feet of wallpaper was hand-painted by three scenic artists.

2.7 tons of wood was used to make the show floor.

The two child actors in this production have full school days in addition to a full performance day.

One thing is for certain in Riverside Theatre’s production of Lost in Yonkers – and that is: dysfunctional families are widespread, and how one’s childhood pans out often has an affect on how their adulthood will unfold.

In an attempt to find the humorous, positive side of this show, there are a few themes that come to mind: Fear the elderly woman who always has a cane in hand to use as a weapon, the grass is not always greener on the other side, however it is what feeds the cows and other critters in the South, and there is someone in this world for everyone, even crazy and spacey, and perhaps a bit mentally challenged, Bella.

Uncle Louie talks to his nephews on the set of Lost in Yonkers.
Photo courtesy of Riverside Theatre.

The opening scene of Lost in Yonkers is set in th 1942 Yonkers-based two-bedroom apartment of Grandma Kurnitz, where 15-year-old Jay and 13-year-old Arty are sitting and conversing in the overly warm living room. Their father – Eddie – is in the master bedroom (unseen to the audience) with his mother, Grandma Kurnitz. The two brothers are talking about how so many people dread Grandma Kurnitz because she would use her cane to knock someone over the head if there were a disagreement or lesson to be learned. They also discussed how much they missed their mother, who had passed away, leaving them motherless and their father a widow.

Riverside Theatre is a nonprofit organization that Vero Beach is lucky to be home to. Consider becoming a member and sharing their performances with others, as well as get sneak peeks and backstage tours and discounts to events.

It becomes apparent that Eddie had borrowed a substantial amount of money from a Mob-related henchman in an effort to comfort his dying wife with the best of care and services as she grew sicker and sicker until she eventually died. The only way Eddie, a traveling salesman, would be able to make the money to pay back his loan shark, was to leave his sons with Grandma Kurnitz while he travels into the South to make enough money for repayment.

Brothers Jay and Arty must learn to adapt to life with their stern German grandmother while their father hits the road for work in the South.
Photo courtesy Riverside Theatre.

Jay and Arty are no more enthused about living with their not-so-lovely German grandmother than she is to be troubled with two teenage boys with no sense and no regard for her, living in her apartment, which is set above the candy shop she owns and operates. In comes Bella, Jay and Arty’s (or as Grandma Kurnitz calls them, ‘Yay-cub’ and ‘Art-er’ – Jacob and Arthur) insecure, flighty, independently dependent aunt, their father’s sister, who works in her mother’s candy shop and finds joy in her escapes to the movies. Her enthusiasm for having the boys come to live with her and her mother is what seals the deal for Eddie’s plan of his boys staying in Yonkers while he is off to make money and pay off his debt to save his life from the Mob. Eddie, played by actor Steve Perlmutter, is brother of Uncle Louie, played by actor Jonas Cohen. Eddie earns an honest living, while Louie is also questionably involved with the Mob, particularly protective of a black bag that he stole from someone named Hollywood Harry.

The performance of actress Emily Berman as Bella is tremendously comical – She makes the appeal of a space cadet, whimsical, stubborn woman seem nonchalant and adoring, while young actors Bergman Freedman and Vincent Crocilla do a wonderful job playing the humorous and sometimes serious roles of brother Jay and Arty.

Eddie, played by actor Steve Perlmutter, speaks to his boys about how they must behave while being guests at Grandma Kurnitz’s apartment.
Photo courtesy of Riverside Theatre.

Grandma Kurnitz is played by actress Shami J. McCormick, who definitely plays the role of a grumpy old, jaded, and traumatized grandmother, and the last few scenes of the monotonous set feature Carine Montberdrand as the pleasantly underbearing, yet also traumatized Aunt Gert, who has an interesting way of completing a sentence that one must see to comprehend. Take a deep breath in and speak at the same time. That’s Aunt Gert.

Lost in Yonkers is a Neil Simon production, sponsored at Riverside Theatre by Bobbie Olsen with Allen D. Cornell as Produding Artistic Director/CEO and Jon R. Moses as Managing Director/COO. The current production runs through Feb. 23, and tickets and show times and availability are available on Riverside Theatre’s website.

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