Lost in Yonkers

by Neil Simon

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ArthurSee Arty Kurnitz.

Arty Kurnitz Arty Kurnitz, a thirteen-year-old boy, is Eddie's youngest boy. Arty is forced to live with his grandma Kurnitz for ten months while his father works off a debt to a loan shark. Arty prefers to go by ''Arty,’’ but his grandma calls him "Arthur," so he reluctantly accepts this name. Arty gets sick during the play and is forced by his grandma to drink her horrid mustard soup. Arty is afraid of his Uncle Louie, a mob henchman, especially when Louie tries to force Arty to open his mysterious satchel. Jay sticks up for Arty in this instance. By the end of the play, however, Arty misses his Uncle Louie, who has enlisted in the military to avoid some other mob henchmen. Bella confides in Arty and Jay about her marriage plans when she cannot find anybody else to talk to.

Aunt Bella Kurnitz Aunt Bella is Grandma Kurnitz's mentally impaired daughter and the aunt of Jay and Arty Kurnitz. Bella is the most dynamic character in the play. In the beginning, much emphasis is placed on Bella's mental condition. Bella tends to walk around in a daze, which the audience eventually learns is one of the ways she copes with her dysfunctional home life. Bella is a daydreamer and likes to spend her time at the movie theater. Here, Bella meets an illiterate usher that she wants to marry. She also hopes to start a business with him but needs five thousand dollars to do this. Bella is nervous about bringing this topic up with her family, especially her mother. As a result, Bella invites the whole family to a dinner during which she attempts to spring the news on them. However, she is unable to figure out a way to do this and so must rely on Jay to help her reveal her news, by prompting her with questions.

Despite her fear of her mother, Bella stands up to Grandma Kurnitz three times in the play. In the beginning, when Grandma Kurnitz refuses to let Jay and Arty stay with her, Bella threatens to leave her mother if the boys cannot stay. During the dinner, she launches into a speech, asserting her independence and causing her mother to leave the room without saying a word. Finally, at the end of the play, Bella digs up her mother's painful past—when her mother lost two children. Bella says that she is going to raise her children differently, showering them with love instead of withholding it for fear of losing them and having to deal with heartbreak. At the end of the play, Bella is totally transformed. She has a new friend and a potential date. She talks to her mother very boldly and acts strong and independent.

Eddie Kurnitz Eddie Kurnitz is the son of Grandma Kurnitz and the father of Jay and Arty Kurnitz. He is forced to leave his boys with his mother so that he can go south, take advantage of the need for workers during the war and ultimately pay off a debt that he owes to a loan shark. Eddie gained this debt when he paid for his deceased wife's hospital bills. Eddie feels that the only way to repay the debt is to work hard, and he works so hard that he makes himself sick. Throughout the play, Eddie sends periodic letters to his boys and his mother, which are read to the audience in voice-over. These letters set the tone for each scene and make Eddie a major character, despite the fact that he is only physically...

(This entire section contains 1390 words.)

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present in the first and last scenes.

Gert Kurnitz Gert is Grandma Kurnitz's daughter and Arty's and Jay's aunt. As the result of her mother's harsh love, Gert has developed a breathing problem that causes her to start each sentence breathing out and to end the sentence sucking in. This problem is more pronounced when she is visiting her mother. When Bella runs away, Gert houses her for a couple of days without telling her mother.

Grandma Kurnitz Grandma Kurnitz is the mother of Eddie, Bella, Louie, and Gert, and she is the grandmother of Jay and Arty Kurnitz. Grandma Kurnitz is characterized by her tough attitude, which is underscored by her harsh German accent. All of the characters think that Grandma Kurnitz is too tough on them, but it is revealed at the end of the play that she is tough because she lost two of her children. Ever since that day, she has closed herself off emotionally from her children and others. As a result, she has been very harsh when raising her children, trying above all else to teach them how to survive. In the process, however, each child has developed a defense mechanism to survive, some of which are debilitating, such as Gert's breathing problems.

When Jay and Arty come to live with Grandma Kurnitz, she is hard on them, too. As she has done with her own children, Grandma Kurnitz charges Jay for any items that are missing from her candy store, even when she has taken them herself. Several characters stand up to Grandma Kurnitz, including Arty, but all of them inevitably back down—except for Bella. Grandma Kurnitz tries above all else to protect Bella, who is mentally impaired. She treats Bella like a child and has a hard time accepting the fact that Bella has become a woman and is seeking a mature life with a husband and children. Grandma Kurnitz also has difficulty admitting that she needs others, even though she relies on Bella. By the end of the play, Grandma Kurnitz has reluctantly accepted the fact that Bella is growing up.

Jay Kurnitz Jay Kurnitz, a fifteen-year-old boy, is Eddie's oldest boy. Jay is forced to live with his Grandma Kurnitz for ten months while his father works off a debt to a loan shark. Jay prefers to go by "Jay,'' but his grandma calls him "Yakob," so he reluctantly accepts this name. Although both Jay and Arty work in their grandma's store, Jay seems to get harassed more by his grandma. When any pretzels or other items are missing from the store—even if Grandma Kurnitz herself took them—Jay is forced to pay for the missing items. It is Jay's idea to look for their grandma's stashed fortune, which Jay hopes to send to their father, Eddie, so that Eddie does not have to work himself into the ground anymore. Jay gets another moneymaking idea, namely going with his uncle Louie into the mob business. However, when he approaches Louie about this idea, Louie is not receptive. In fact, when Louie thinks the boys have been snooping around his mysterious black satchel, he tries to force a frightened Arty to open up the bag, but Jay sticks up for his brother. Bella confides in Jay and Arty about her marriage plans when she cannot find anybody else to talk to. When Aunt Bella gets nervous during the family dinner and cannot figure out how to break the news of her impending marriage, Jay helps her out by prompting her with questions.

Louie Kurnitz Louie Kurnitz is the son of Grandma Kurnitz and the uncle of Jay and Arty Kurnitz. Louie is the toughest of Grandma Kurnitz's children and has adopted a career as a henchman for the mob. His whole character, including his dialogue, style of dress, and actions are defined by this role. Louie operates on emotional extremes. He can be very ferocious, as when he suspects that Jay and Arty have been snooping in his mysterious black bag. On these occasions, he explodes. However, he can also be jovial and fun to be around. Throughout the play, Louie prepares to leave town, since he is wanted by the mob. At the end of the play, the audience finds out that Louie enlisted in the army to escape the mob and is fighting in the Battle of Guadalcanal. Louie has earned a lot of money in his illicit dealings, and he tries to share this money with his mother, but she refuses to take it. Also, although he does not approve of Bella's initial plan to marry an illiterate and open a restaurant, he gives her five thousand dollars to pursue her dream.

YakobSee Jay Kurnitz.