RISE Theatre's current show is Neil Simon's 1991 Pulitzer Prize winning play, "Lost in Yonkers." The show is set in 1942 and it examines the relationships in the emotionally crippled Kurnitz family. The show is a coming of age tale that focuses on brothers, Artie and Jay, left in the care of their Grandmother Kurnitz and Aunt Bella in Yonkers, NY. Their desperate father, Eddie, works as a traveling salesman to pay off debts incurred following the death of his wife. Grandma is a severe, frightfully intimidating immigrant who terrified her children as they were growing up, damaging them in varying degrees. Bella is a sweet but mentally slow and highly excitable woman who longs to marry the usher at a local movie house so she can escape the oppressive household. Bella's brother, Louie is a small time, tough-talking hoodlum who is on the run, while sister, Gert suffers from a breathing problem whose cause is more psychological than physical. Neil Simon shows why the five adults in this show have become the way they are and how it affects the two teenage boys left in their midst. Director Patricia Hawkridge blends the comic and dramatic moments together splendidly, leaving the audience laughing and crying at all the appropriate moments. With her expert direction, Patricia's cast wins a thunderous ovation at the close of the show.
Patricia always brings out the best in her performers and this show is no exception. She pays attention to every nuance her cast makes, creating a stunning show the audience can savor. The splendid 1940's set is by Patricia and Pat Ferron who painted the set to look like wall paper while the gorgeous period costumes are by Suzanne Landry and Freya Hainley. The cast is led by two powerhouse actresses. Pretty brunette, Dawn Souza plays Bella, an affectionate 35 year old who is mildly retarded. Bella wants the same things other women want, getting married and having a family. However her mother smothers her longings with a stern unbending hand. Dawn plays this sympathetic character splendidly especially when she makes the audience cry while pleading with her family to let her marry the movie usher. Bella's family cheers her on when she finally stands up to her overbearing mother to let her leave her life to the fullest. Connie Anderson brings this German monster of a grandmother to life. Her bitchy, mean spirited behavior hides her true hurt at the death of her young son many years ago. Connie's acting prowess makes the audience dislike this horrible woman until you find out the true reason for her behavior. Both Connie and Dawn's interactions are marvelous and set a high standard for the other performers.
The youngest cast members are marvelous in their roles, stealing many scenes along the way with their strong acting ability. Connor Holden as Jay and Tim Ferron as Artie play the boys left to live with their terrible, unemotional grandmother after the death of their mother. They shine in their time on stage. Connor and Tim handle their enormous amount of dialogue with the ease of veteran performers. They make the humor, pathos and fright of their plight in Yonkers, a joy to watch. Connor has tears in his eyes when their father is ready to leave them. He is also fabulous in the emotion packed scene when Bella stands up to her mother's vile behavior as well as in the scene where he stands up to his Uncle Louie. Tim's timing with his comic lines is topnotch. He has a cowlick in his hair like Alfalfa from "The Little Rascals". They make the audience believe they could be brothers in real life. Bravo on a job well done!!
The other dysfunctional family members are the mobster, Uncle Louie, the speech impaired, Aunt Gert, and their emotional father, Eddie. Mark Tiberiis is topnotch as Louie, He has the gangster swagger and tough talk with boys down pat. Louie is also able to handle his tough mother. Mark brings out the comic aspect of the character but also shows Louie's soft spot for Bella when he gives her the money she needs. Brenda Chiavarini does a wonderful job as Gert with her comic breathing in and out as she says her lines. She also displays Gert's nervousness around her mother and her warmth for Bella with a hug after Bella is devastated by her mother's rejection of her plans to marry Johnny. Frank O'Donnell as Eddie, garners the empathy of the audience when he describes the death of his wife, his leaving of his sons with his awful mother and the financial trouble he is in. So for a fantastic rendition of this Pulitzer Prize winning Neil Simon show, be sure to catch "Lost in Yonkers" by RISE. It is the must see show of this season. I have many fond memories of this show having directed it back in 2002.