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Review – ‘Lost in Yonkers’ at Raven Performing Arts Theater

Overcome by medical bills and responsibilities, Eddie brings his children to stay with relatives, leaving them at the mercy of ferocious disciplinarian Grandma Kurnitz and capriciously cheerful Bella, who swings between offering ice cream sundaes to threats with the slightest misunderstanding. The family’s odd behavior is gradually explained, revealing stories of being locked in closets and denied meals for imagined infractions. Convinced that her stern methods would forge survivors, Grandma Kurnitz hides her true feelings, projecting a cold exterior, incapable of affection. Her family refuses to give up, despite their failings, and comes together through Bella’s antics to support a better future together.

Set in early World War II, its themes of sacrifice, acceptance and forgiveness are universal. Director Joe Gellura’s enthusiasm for Neil Simon’s work shines through; in a collaborative effort with the cast, such as the climactic confrontation between Bella and her mother, the dysfunctional family is brought to life, brimming with emotion. Although the story takes its time building momentum, punctuated with repartee between the two boys, it gains traction in the second act for a moving finale.

Eddie (Dan Stryker) makes his presence known through transition letters home, with underlying sound design by Tom Luekens of clattering trains. Young Arty (Logan Warren) hovers in corners, fearful of notice, unsure of himself in a foreign environment.Ari Vozaitis as the teenage Jay is poised and well-spoken, commanding the stage during his discussions with Louie (Gregory Skopp) who makes a brief, memorable appearance as the slick gangster.

Losing her train of thought, filled with childlike curiosity and dreams, Bella (Priscilla Locke) becomes the unknowing catalyst of the family facing their demons. Trish DeBaun portrays a matriarch hardened against sympathetic pleas, yet starved for affection, believing that by strengthening her children she will save them from the horrors of her youth being bullied in Germany for her Jewish ancestry. “But this is Yonkers, Momma” Eddie shouts, trying to convince her to be reasonable, and stop clinging to the past.

Working class attire from functional blouses to tweed caps are designed by Holly Werner, whose attention to detail shows in parallel swaths of brown fabric worn by Bella and Grandma Kurnitz when they finally speak openly with each other. Tattered furnishings covered in doilies reflect the grandmother’s influence in a conservative set design by Julie Raven-Smart.

‘Lost in Yonkers’ reassembles maladjusted, fractured relationships, reinforcing the power of stubborn love when it comes to family. Raven Players presents this classic play with enthusiasm and heart.

Lost in Yonkers

Presented by Raven Players through April 15, 2018 Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 2:00pm

Raven Performing Arts Center 115 North Street, Healdsburg, 95448 (707) 433-6335

Photos by Ray Mabry Photography.

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