‘Yonkers’ accurately depicts life in the ‘40s

Grandma Kurnitz, played by Taylor Thies, freshman of Rapid City, South Dakota, pulls her grandson Artie, played by Brei Royle, freshman of Litchfield, by the hair, during a dress rehearsal of “Lost in Yonkers” Tuesday in the Black Box Theatre.  —Photo by Melanie Nelson

Grandma Kurnitz, played by Taylor Thies, freshman of Rapid City, South Dakota, pulls her grandson Artie, played by Brei Royle, freshman of Litchfield, by the hair, during a dress rehearsal of “Lost in Yonkers” Tuesday in the Black Box Theatre. —Photo by Melanie Nelson


During the opening scene, it also becomes obvious that the setting is in New York.
In the early ‘40s of Yonkers, New York, the Kurnitz family is in turmoil. Eddie, played by Samuel Thomas Martin, junior of Hot Springs, South Dakota, must go away for his job and his two sons, Jay, played by Wacey Gallegos, senior of Ainsworth; and Artie, played by Brei Royle, freshman of Litchfield, must stay with Eddie’s mother, Grandma Kurnitz, played by Taylor Thies, freshman of Rapid City, South Dakota. Oh, and Eddie’s sister, Bella, played by Mickenzi Loyd, freshman of Big Piney, Wyoming.
The boys fear Grandma because of the rumors they heard about how she treated her kids growing up. Grandma presents herself as a cold and uncaring woman, saying at one point that “the only way you get through this world is by being steel.” She’s also very formal. She insists on calling Jay and Artie by their full names, Jakob and Arthur. And she takes offense when the boys are talking to her and use nicknames or speak informally. Artie, more than once, will say, “yeah,” and then quickly correct it to “yes,” at a stern look from Grandma.
Early on, you find out that Jay and Artie’s aunts and uncles have issues of some kind or aren’t in the most reputable businesses. Bella has the mind of a child, after being born with scarlet fever, and Gert, played by Courtney Smith, freshman of Hampton, has an issue when she talks. The first part of her sentence is said breathing out, the last part is said breathing in. Louie, played by Nathan Wojciechowski, junior of Gering, is rumored to be a henchman for a gangster. Eddie seems to be the only “normal” and upright child, but, according to Louie, he’s a bit of a cry-baby.
Toward the beginning, Eddie does seem to be close to tears at one point, but he’s also sensitive and loving toward his sons. He gives the image of being a real family man and lays down everything for his sons and his siblings; Bella in particular.
It takes a lot of convincing from Eddie for Grandma to take the boys—she says she’s too old to have kids in her house, that she’s done with that part of her life. And after Grandma turns Eddie down, on his way out the door he says, “I’m not angry at you, Mama. I’m angry at myself for not knowing better.”
The boys convince Grandma that they want to stay and that they will behave.
So off goes Pop (Eddie).
Just before the intermission, Louie gets officially introduced and comes to stay for a few weeks with Grandma, Bella, and the boys, sharing a bed with Jay and Artie.
When I heard there was going to be a ten minute intermission at the beginning, I was nervous about how long the play was going to be. But I wasn’t disappointed.
Post-intermission, Artie is sick and lounging on the couch reading a “Captain America” comic. In one of the letters from Eddie, he reads about a soup that Grandma used to make while he was sick. So when Grandma comes up to the apartment from the candy store she owns downstairs with some soup, Artie is more than a little hesitant to take it. At one point, he accuses her of wanting to see him die, which he would do if he drank the soup. Grandma, in that typical grandma-fashion, seemed amused by his antics and looked content that he finished the soup, and no, he didn’t die.
All-in-all, this whole experience is a learning curve for every character. Jay and Grandma seem to be the most improved of all the characters. By the end, Grandma is less set in her ways and Jay has a new understanding of what it means to be an adult and the responsibilities that come with it.
“Lost in Yonkers” was written by Marvin Neil Simon and based largely on his own experience. The program says he was a child of the Great Depression, his parents struggled with financial hardship.
Directed by Molly Thornton, senior of Riverton, Wyoming, the screenplay is long, but worth the watch. It has a ten-minute intermission for the actors and gives a nice break for the audience to use the restrooms (which the voice at the beginning of the play gives directions to).
“Lost in Yonkers” will be playing tonight through Sunday at 7 p.m. in the Black Box Theatre.

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