Thursday, June 2, 2011


From left, Lynn Demers-Hunt, Barbara Strong Ellis, Brian Soutner and Bret Sassaman star in EPAC’s “Lost in Yonkers” June 2-11 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre.


If you or your family members have ever pondered why you’re all the way you are – and how your family dynamic, your upbringing and your past experiences have formed you – you’ll warmly embrace Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Lost in Yonkers.” The show, which opens tonight (Thursday, June 2), is both funny and heart-warming, and it will make you think empathetically about the pain some people experience just underneath their rough exteriors.

Simon also won the Tony and the Drama Desk awards for his 1991 play, which concerns the dysfunctional Kurnitz family of Yonkers, NY, in the 1940s. As the play unfolds, some of the reasons for the family’s interpersonal problems and quirky personalities reveal themselves as this group is thrown together under difficult circumstances. Eddie Kurnitz’s wife has died, and Eddie work out of town for several months to make money and satisfy a shady loan that paid for her treatment. He needs to entrust the temporary care of his two adolescent sons, Jay and Arty, to his tough-as-nails, immigrant mother, Grandma Kurnitz, and to his sweet but childlike sister, Bella. The action of the play takes place in tight living quarters above the Kurnitz family’s candy shop.

We also meet Eddie’s brother, Uncle Louie, a shady, small-time criminal who teaches his nephews plenty of life lessons despite himself, and Aunt Gert, who suffers from a breathing ailment that seems more psychological than physical.

You’ll love watching this Kurnitz family tapestry unravel through the eyes of its youngest members, Jay (played by Bret Sassaman) and Arty (Brain Soutner). These two young actors will delight you with their humorous take on the lessons they learn amid the crazy situation into which they’ve been thrown.

Barbara Strong Ellis thoroughly inhabits the role of Grandma Kurnitz. Her stern, Germanic presence may frighten you the way it chills her children and grandchildren. But look beneath the unlikeable exterior and listen to a bit of her life story as the play progresses; you’ll come to a kinder understanding of this formidable woman. Lynn Demers-Hunt plays Bella beautifully, revealing a childlike confusion and a deep need to give and receive love. Watching these two women gradually try to come to a mutual understanding in their complicated relationship will absolutely break your heart.

Bob Checcia is clearly having a great time sinking his teeth into the role of the hilarious, swaggering Louie – who is a real character, and who has some of the funniest lines in the play. You’ll swear he and Bruce Weaver, who plays Eddie, are really brothers! Weaver brings out a more sentimental side of the Kurnitz family – cultivated, no doubt, through the outside ministrations of Eddie’s late wife. And though Sharon Mellinger’s role is relatively small, she makes a big impression as the stylish but damaged Gert – who tries to help everyone in the family get along.

Kudos to everyone involved in the production, from director Rich Repkoe and stage manager Terry Kreider to costume designer Veronica Craig, propmistress Fran Hill, set designer Matt McCormick and lighting designer Richard Wolf-Spencer. And thanks to light-board operator Kate Morgan, technical director/master electrician Stephanie Witman and master carpenter Steve Schelling.

Open your heart to the Kurnitz family, now through June 11 at the Sharadin Bigler Theatre. And bring your Kleenex.


You can see Blue Ridge Communication’s wonderful video preview of “Lost in Yonkers,” which features scenes from the show and interviews with the actors and the director, here.

Thanks to Blue Ridge Communications, as always, for the great video promos, and for being EPAC's season media sponsor. Thanks, also, to Terry Bigler, Terry Kurtz and Zeller Travel, the 2011 season sponsors, and to H&R Block and the Ray H. Good Business Center, 114 E. Main St., Suite B, Ephrata, for sponsoring "Lost in Yonkers."

The theater also extends its appreciation to the Olde Lincoln House for being the venue for the opening-night celebration on June 2, and to Green Mountain Cyclery for sponsoring the shindig. That post-show celebration is included in the price of your opening-night ticket.

When you see representatives of these businesses at the theater or around town, PLEASE thank them for all they do for EPAC. We owe them so much!

And, when you're at the theater seeing "Lost in Yonkers," please come say hi to your humble EPAC blogger; I'll be wearing a different hat during the run of this show, that of temporary house manager (filling in for Terry Kreider, who is house-managing "Yonkers.") I love to meet members of the EPAC family!

# Mary Ellen (“Merv”) Wright