RISE Brings Yonkers to Woonsocket

yonkersNeil Simon’s Lost in Yonkers is a play about family and kindness. I have never seen a production of this play that emulated that theme from the moment you stepped in the door — from the set construction, which was a family affair, to the lovely family created onstage — until I saw Rhode Island Stage Ensemble’s production of Lost in Yonkers.  This is fitting as the production is actually the passing of the torch of one theater family to another. This production is RISE’s inaugural production in the space on Clinton Street, which was the location of Theatre Works until recently. This show was a transitional show, and what an apropos choice. Theatre Works has been a staple in Woonsocket for 32 years.  They will be missed, but you can rest assured that theater will be alive and well thanks to RISE.

When you walk into the theater, Pat Ferron’s set greets you, welcoming you to the 1940s. It is beautifully hand-painted, and little personal touches make you feel as if you have stepped back in time.

There is not a weak member of this cast. This is a diversely talented cast that enjoyed working together, evident in their energy and chemistry.

Lost in Yonkers is not an easy show to stage, mainly because the production hinges on the abilities of the two boys who play Arty and Jay. Both characters are young teenagers, and the roles are demanding. The actors need to be able to make you laugh, emphasize, and cry, and RISE was fortunate to find two strong actors for these roles. Tim Ferron’s Arty, who is 13-and-a-half, can be immature at times, but is also a bit of an observer. Ferron’s performance was full of honesty and humor. Connor Holden played Jay, the older brother. We see Jay transform from the older brother making jokes for his younger brother, to the son devastated over his family’s situation, to a young man desperately trying to find a way out of his situation. His performance both made me laugh and tugged at my heart. Expect big things from both of these young actors!

Dawn Souza’s portrayal of Bella was a breath of fresh air. This is not an easy role for any actress to play because there is a danger that Bella can be played as one-dimensional. But it is Bella’s unwavering love for her family, her certainty that there is something out there for her and her unending enthusiasm that Souza brings to life with each line. When she utters Bella’s famous line, “Hold me … somebody please hold me,” there isn’t a dry eye in the house. Her performance is not to be missed.

It is fitting that Connie Anderson played Grandma Kurnitz. Anderson has been a staple of the Woonsocket Arts scene for 32 years through Theatre Works and has done so much work backstage that you forget just how talented she is as a performer. She never wavers as Grandma Kurnitz, even when the lights go down in between scenes; she is in character as she leans on her cane and makes her way across the darkened stage. And as good as her line delivery is, she was sometimes even stronger when she didn’t have anything to say. During moments where she broke down, and during a very nice additional moment of quiet reflection at the end, are when audiences really get to witness Anderson’s stunning talent. I can only hope that she joins RISE onstage once again.

Local drummer, Marc Tiberus, plays Uncle Louie and will have you laughing one moment and nervous the next with his temper. He’s more of a newcomer to the theater community, and if this performance is any indication, we are lucky to have him!

Frank O’Donnell is known for his comedy, which comes in handy as he takes on the role of Eddie. Of course the situation the family is in is a devastating one, but Simon has written these nuggets of laughter in there for the actor’s tacking. O’Donnell has you laughing every time he walks onstage to reprimand the boys about their appearance, and can then turn and deliver an impassioned monologue about how he needed to be loved.

The role of Gert sometimes gets overlooked in this production. We hear about the character in Act One, thanks in part to Holden’s impression of her, but don’t meet her until Act Two. Brenda Chiavarini plays the role with compassion, and how the cast remains in the scene every time Gert runs out of breath remains a mystery to me.

Holding this cast together is Patricia Hawkridge. If you have ever been involved in theater in RI, you have heard the name. She is the Dean of Arts with Beacon Charter, a former Associate Professor of Theatre and Chairman of the Department of Theatre Arts at Salve Regina, founder of LaVoce: Theatre that Speaks, and director of over 35 plays. Hawkridge, takes this script and brings kindness, love and truth to it. You aren’t a passive audience member watching this show; you become invested in this family’s transformation and truly forget that you are watching a play. You are invested 100% in what is unfolding before you, you feel that if you look to your left you will see Hollywood Harry, you want to comfort Bella, and you can even taste that awful soup going down. As talented as this cast is, you know that they got there under the direction of this accomplished and brilliant woman.

RISE has made a beautiful first impression, and Woonsocket has a lot to look forward to with the continued use of the space on Clinton St. You have one more weekend to catch this show, and believe me you are going to want to be able to say, “Yes, I was there for RISE’s first production,” 32 years from now.

Lost in Yonkers runs Fri, Jun 5 and 6 at 7:30 pm, and Jun 7 at 2pm. Tickets are $19 and can be purchased by calling 1-800-838-3006. Their website is ristage.org

Leave a Reply

Prove that you are human *

Previous post:

Next post: