'SICILIANS IN THE BASEMENT"


      A romantic comedy about a hapless couple who open a Swiss Restaurant in  Crown Heights Brooklyn. The Swiss cuisine  is not really going over well in the heavily ethnic neighborhood until two Sicilian Immigrants arrive to shake up the menu! 


"Romantic comedy in every sense of the word with the emphasis on comedy!  Not to be missed!"

Joe Franklin - Bloomberg Radio




Excerpt "Sicilians in the Basement'


CHARACTERS
Hans Segrum       -   mid fifties
Wendi Segrum     -  late forties
Heidi Segrum      - early twenties
Joey Tarazzi        -  (female) forties or older
Armando Valenza      -  mid twenties 
Ted Halpern  -   forty or up
Papa  -  (offstage voice that can be played by stage manager)
 
 
 
 
 
 
ACT 1
SCENE 1
SETTING:                                                 A small restaurant. Three small tables with chairs are evident. The main entrance is up left.  The Back room and basement are up  right. The entrance to the kitchen is back center behind a small service bar. Main entrance is up left.
 
AT RISE:                                                       Mr. Halpern is sitting at a table sipping from a coffee cup as                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Hans is behind the bar listening to a traditional song featuring some yodeling.
 
HEIDI (out from kitchen )
(to Hans) Really Dad? (she turns off music from behind the bar) More hot chocolate Mr. Halpern?
 
TED No thanks.  Three cups is enough.  I’m good for now.
 
HEIDI
All finished with your sandwich?
 
TED
Yes. You can take the plate away. Thank you.
 
HEIDI
Sure thing.  Be right back.
 
HANS (comes out from behind the bar with a menu) Here’s our specials for dinner in case you want to come back later Mr. Halpern.
 
TED
(glances at the menu) Nah, probably not.   I’m usually in a different restaurant every night for dinner.
 
4
 
HANS Oh yes, variety is the spice of life. Well in that case we are very flattered you come to our little bistro every day for lunch.  And we appreciate you being a regular customer.
 
 
TED
My  pleasure.
 
HANS
(as  Heidi returns with the hot chocolate) And we would really appreciate it if you would tell some of your friends about us.
 
TED
Oh I couldn’t possibly do that.
 
HANS
Why not?
 
TED  It’s what I like about the place…it’s never crowded.
 
HEIDI He’s got you there dad. Why can’t we just throw in the towel and close up this mausoleum so I can get a real job.  This place is emptier than the inbox on my online dating website.  If it wasn’t for Mister Halpern here we wouldn’t have any customers.
 
HANS (from back behind bar) Would you cut that out, you’re beginning to sound just like your mother.
 
 
WENDI (0ff from kitchen)
I heard that!
 
HANS
(yelling into kitchen) How could you hear that, you’re in the kitchen?
 
 
WENDI
(she enters  from kitchen)
5
 
The intercom you installed under the bar. (to Heidi) And I thought I told you to stay off those internet dating websites. They’re dangerous. You know how many horror stories I’ve heard about them?
 
HEIDI And exactly how am I supposed to meet men, mother?
 
WENDI Live and in person. Just the way I met your father. When you see him you’ll know it. (to Ted) Oh Hi Mr. Halpern. Did you enjoy your lunch?
 
TED Absolutely suberb! You outdid yourself today.
 
WENDI Why thank you.  It’s good to know that some people around here appreciate my cooking.
 
Hans What’s all the fuss? It was a grilled cheese sandwich.
 
TED But the cheese was melted in just the right manner.  One should never underestimate the skill of making a perfect grilled cheese sandwich.
 
WENDI You should try it with some bacon and tomato. Live a little.
 
TED Excellent  suggestion.  Perhaps  tomorrow. You know since I’ve been dining here I could swear that you and I have met somewhere before?
 
                                                                                WENDI No I don’t think so.
 
                                                                                   TED We’ll I’m looking forward to another delicious grilled cheese sandwich, with bacon and tomato, for lunch tomorrow.
 
                                                                                  WENDI    Couldn’t you have it now?  If business doesn’t start picking up we may be closed by tomorrow.
 
HEIDI
Oh stop trying to cheer me up ma.
6
 
 
HANS
(to Wendi) You see. You see that attitude. Where do you think she gets it from?  Making fun of our livelihood.
 
 
WENDI Livelihood?  Livelihood? Is that what you call this great idea of yours? We opened up a Swiss Restaurant in the middle of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  A Swiss restaurant in the middle of the biggest Hassidic conclave on the East Coast. Who ever heard of a Swiss restaurant in Brooklyn?
 
HEIDI Who ever heard of a Swiss restaurant anywhere?
 
HANS
I thought it was a fantastic idea.
 
 
HEIDI,WENDI and TED
Why?
 
HANS
No competition.
 
WENDI   All we sell is cheese and hot chocolate!  My Uncle Siegfried left us that money to start a good solid business and now it’s all pissed away. 
 
HANS Your Uncle Siegfried, your Uncle Siegfried, that’s all I ever hear!
 
WENDI He was a great man. A wealthy man. Why couldn’t you follow his example?
 
HANS He was a clock maker in Germany and we already have enough cuckoos around here!
 
HEIDI Mom, dad, would you stop arguing in front of the customer! 
 
HANS Heidi is right. This bickering is getting us nowhere.
 
7
 
WENDI This isn’t bickering. It’s fighting. You want bickering, we’ll play  Monopoly later.
 
HEIDI
Enough  you two.
 
 
TED
I think I’ll take my check now.
 
WENDI
(to Ted) Stay where you are, we’ll take a customer poll. (she goes to get the dinner menu as Heidi makes out his check)
 
HEIDI (writing the check) Let’s see, that was one grilled cheese and three cups of hot chocolate, right.
 
 
TED
Correct.
WENDI
(as Heidi hands him the check) Here Mr. Haplern. Look at these dinner specials my husband picked out.  Swiss omelet,  sauerbraten and cabbage, baked Swiss liver and onions, I mean, would you order any of this?
 
TED
The Alps Avocado salad looks okay.
 
HANS Alright, we all get the picture. I’m trying to stay true to the nature of Swiss cuisine that’s all. What do you want me to serve, pizza?
 
HEIDI
Could we?
 
HANS No we couldn’t. This is America, the melting pot. Land of diversity and mixed cultures.  And New York, where the culinary tastes of many different regions are evident.
 
 
WENDI
8
 
And while we’re waiting for everyone to learn to appreciate the culinary expertise of the Swiss people, how are we going to pay this month’s rent? Joey Tarazzi isn’t going to wait forever you know.
 
TED
(to Heidi) Who’s Joey Tarazzi?
 
HEIDI
Our skinflint slum landlord.
 
TED
Oh.
 
WENDI
(to Ted) You see once upon a time this used to be a very successful Italian Restaurant.  But the more successful it got, the more Tarazzi raised the rent every year when it came up for renewal . That skinflint  never gave them more than just a one year lease.  Finally the owners figured they could be successful anywhere and moved out west . I think California, although it could be Arizona.
 
HEIDI
Or maybe they just moved back to Italy! 
 
HANS
Here she goes again.
 
HEIDI Oh, could you imagine, a nice little restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean?  How romantic. Me sitting there enjoying the view! Some nice young, handsome Italian waiter taking my order. Maybe we exchange a knowing glance during dinner and later on he agrees to show me the sights. He’s probably a talented artist who’s just waiting tables until his creative genius is discovered. One thing leads to another and… Imagine, me, little Heidi Segrum from Brooklyn, living in an Italian Chalet.    
 
HANS Okay, no more Batchlorette for you young lady. Back to reality.
 
WENDI Reality being that Joey Tarazzi can’t wait to get us out of here so she can turn over the place and the rent  can be raised again.
 
TED
9
 
What do you mean?
 
WENDI After the previous tenants moved out  of this place it sat empty for two years.  We negotiated a sweet ten year lease and Tarazzi, who was desperate for some income at the time, has been trying to break it ever since.  Must have gotten wind of that new movie theater opening up the street. We’re the only restaurant on the block. Probably figures on re- negotiating a better lease with another restaurant.  
 
TED Makes sense I guess.   But won’t the new theater also help your establishment?
 
HANS Sure it will. If we can stay in business till it opens. 
 
TED
When is it scheduled to open?
 
WENDI
About three months.
 
HANS The only other business around here is the Brooklyn Sentinel building around the block. The last surviving newspaper in Brooklyn.
 
TED Yes, I’m familiar with it. Lived in Brooklyn my whole life.
 
(Joey Tarazzi enters)
 
HEIDI
Speak of the devil.
 
TED
Who is it?
 
HEIDI
The Landlord,   (to Joey in a mocking tone) Joey Tarrazi,
 
JOEY
That’s right, who wants to know?
 
10
 
TED
I don’t get it.
 
JOEY Get what, a decent meal at this place?  Don’t worry, nobody does.
 
TED
That wasn’t what I was referring to.
 
JOEY
Oh, the name, the Joey part, it’s short for…
 
TED
Don’t tell me, Josephine right?
 
JOEY
No, actually it’s Alicia.
 
TED
Now I really don’t get it. 
 
JOEY When I was a kid I had this stuffed baby kangaroo. They call baby Kangaroos Joeys. I carried that doll around so much my family just started referring to me as baby and Joey. Finally they dropped the baby and just started calling me Joey.  Now you get it?
 
TED No, but I’m sure a good psychiatrist would.  Well, I must be going.  (he exits)
 
JOEY
So how’s business?  Or the lack of it.
 
HANS We’re doing just fine Joey, and the rent isn’t due for another two weeks so to what do we owe the pleasure of this visit? Stop in for lunch?  Or maybe you want to look at the leaking faucet in the kitchen and schedule a repair?  
 
JOEY Hardly.  Just wanted to check up on things. See if everything is going okay. See if all restaurant regulations and ordinances are being followed.
 
Heidi Why, did you suddenly get a job with the board of health?
11
 
 
JOEY I just want to know that my tenants are running a clean shop, that’s all.  No pun intended of course.
 
HANS You’re a real sweetheart Joey. But don’t you have a house to foreclose on around the block or something? I can’t imagine you just have time to hang around and do nothing?
 
JOEY
Of course I do, I’m a landlord.
 
HANS Well as you can see, we’re pretty busy around here.
 
JOEY
Oh sure you are!  
 
HEIDI
(Heidi starts to laugh) Yeah, I’d ask you to help with the dirty dishes if we had any.
 
HANS Keep it up Heidi, and the only  Italian Chalet you’ll be near will be in Disney world.  And you’ll be waiting tables there!
 
JOEY At least she’ll have customers.  You see, that’s what I mean. The kid’s absolutely right. Why don’t you just cut your losses and move on. Go back to your old occupation. What was your old occupation anyway?
 
WENDI He was a saxophone player in a strip club in Greenwich Village.
 
HEIDI
Yeah, that’s where he met you mom.
 
                                                                                   TED That’s where I remember you from! See you tomorrow!
 
(He exits)
 
WENDI
I was working my way through college.
12
 
 
JOEY Well, they’re always looking for Limo drivers around town.
 
HANS And what about the ten year lease we signed?
 
 
JOEY Forget about the lease! What’s a ten year lease among friends? I’ll tear it up. We part amicably. I’ll even refund the last two weeks rent to help you out on your next venture. What do you say?
 
WENDI
Two whole weeks?  You’re all heart.
 
JOEY
I’m offering you a lifeboat on a sinking ship.
 
HANS Forget it. We’re not giving up! We’ll fight on, never give up the battle. We’re Segrums, from Switzerland! 
 
HEIDI Fight on? I thought  Switzerland was  neutral?
 
WENDI
(frustrated) Our ancestors were from Switzerland Hans. Actually mine were from Germany. You’re second generation  American and I’m third. Maybe we should think about Joey’s offer.
 
HANS
Never. 
 
JOEY I think you should listen to lap dance Lucy there because when the next rent comes due I’m not going to be as nice as I am now. I expect my rent on time.  And you know what happens if you miss two payments in a row…
 
HANS Don’t worry, you’ll get your pound of flesh. ..I’ll be downstairs taking inventory. Call me when the dinner rush starts. (he exits to basement)
 
JOEY
13
 
The dinner rush isn’t going to start until every other restaurant in Brooklyn closes.
 
HEIDI Thanks for rubbing it in.  Do you think you could look at the faucet while you’re here harassing us?
 
JOEY No.  I just had my nails done.  Listen. I know what you think of me.  Cold hearted, greedy landlord only looking out for herself.
 
WENDI
That’s pretty close, yeah.
 
JOEY I made you a good offer. If you don’t take it well, it’s not my fault.   It’s a tough economy out there.  I’d hate to see you three living on the street. (she exits)
 
HEIDI Maybe we could move in with some of your relatives in Switzerland. (As she looks through newspaper Mr. Halpern left)
 
WENDI
 
Look, this looney restaurant was your father's idea.  It is his dream to have this restaurant.  But with only Mr. Halpern as a customer we aren't going to last another week.  We’ve got to do something.  And fast.
 
HEIDI
(referring to newspaper) Here’s what you need.  A good review from Theodore Halperninni, food critic for The Sentinel.
 
WENDI What’s he gonna review, the amount of marshmallows in the hot chocolate?  What we need is a menu that is going to bring people in. We need to create a word of mouth customer base.  You know people come in, have a fabulous dinner and then go home and tell all their friends.(picks up menu) And this isn't going to cut it. 
 
(The sound of a saxophone playing a striptease {a song similar to Night train} can be heard from the basement)
 
WENDI
14
 
There he goes again. Every time he gets stressed out he starts playing that saxophone. I’ll close the door downstairs, we wouldn’t want any customers thinking we have pole dancers in the basement. HEIDi What customers mom?  (looks at menu and shakes her head)
 
ARMANDO (He speaks with an Italian accent, looks up to heaven and blesses himself) We are a herea! We are finally a herea! … (walks up to Wendi) You musta be a cousin Isabella….. (he starts kissing her hand) Buona sera! Buona sera!
 
WENDI I’m afraid you’re mistaken young man. My name is Wendi.  
 
ARMANDO A Wendi? What kinda name is that for an Italian?
 
(Wendi  shoots Heidi a look and exits to basement as shouting in Italian is heard from offstage)
 
Scusi una  secundo.
 
(he goes to front door and calls out)
 
Papa, Aspetta, I’m a talkin to da senora. Eh gobish? Ah good. Una minutoe, una minto, paya the cab driva!
 
(He returns to Heidi as Wendi re- enters from basement)
 
Scusi, senora, my papa.
 
HEIDI
(picks up a menu and hands it to Armando) May I help you sir?  Would you like to place an order for take out?
 
WENDI
I don’t think he’s here for lunch honey.
 
ARMANDO Manjarre’  no, no, no…I no here to eata, I herea to lavorro, to a worka.
 
HEIDI
15
 
Are you from Italy?
 
ARMANDO
Si. I’ma froma Sicilia. Sicily.
 
HEIDI
Really, how exciting! What’s your name?
 
ARMANDO
Me nome’, Armando.
 
HEIDI OOOhh, how continental! How European…how… how….(a sigh)romantic!
 
WENDI
Oh boy, I better call your father. (she goes to basement door)
 
ARMANDO Such a beauty I have never seen..a facia bella! Pleasa tell me your nota my cousin Isabella…
 
WENDI
(screaming from off) Hans, get up here!
 
HEIDI
No, my name is Heidi.
 
ARMANDO Heidi? Thatsa pretty name, Are you Italiano? I’ma confused.
 
HEIDI
Me, oh no. I’m just an American.
 
ARMANDO
Americana beauty… (he kisses her hand as  Hans enters)
 
HANS
What’s all the commotion?
 
WENDI
(as she pulls Heidi away) Calm down there Romeo. 
16
 
 
(more shouting in Italian from papa off stage)
 
Scusi one second.
 
(goes to door)
 
PAPA
(from off) Armando, que causa?
 
ARMANDO
(to off) Uno minuto papa…I’ma talkin to the people, aspetta, , have a gelato, watcha the luggage.. (back in restaurant)
 
HANS
Watcha  the luggage!?
 
WENDI
This doesn’t sound good.
 
HEIDI
Sounds great to me.
 
ARMANDO I apologiza. My papa, he’s a very tired afta the longa trip to get herea. Wella, now we are a heara, so… where is everybody?
 
HANS
Everybody’s right here. 
 
ARMANDO
(to Hans) Are you Italiano?
 
HANS
No I’m Swiss!
 
ARMANDO Ah, Swiss, now we are getin a closa, right over the Alps.
 
WENDI
We’re not Swiss, we’re American.
17
 
 
ARMANDO
Americano, now I’ma confused again.
 
WENDI
Not as confused as we are.
 
ARMANDO
This is a restaurant, si?
 
WENDI
Si.
 
ARMANDO
(Shows Hans a paper) This is a the righta adressa, Si? Crowna Heights, Brookaleen, New Yorka?
 
HANS
(Looks at paper) Yeah, this is the right adressa…I mean address.
 
ARMANDO Me no cabisha, where are all the italiano’s?
 
HEIDI
Rome?
 
ARMANDO Thisa restaurant, itsa da right adressa, this is not the ‘Casa Valencia?’
 
HANS Casa Valencia? Oh no, no. Now I understand…You’re looking for the previous owners…They’re  gone. They moved out over two years ago. We just took over this place. It’s  a Swiss restaurant now!
 
ARMANDO Swissa Restauranta? (He starts to laugh) You gotta be kiddin. I never evena heard of a Swissa restauranta.
 
HEIDI
Join the club.
 
ARMANDO
Not even ina Switzerland.
18
 
 
WENDI
What did I tell you Hans?
 
HANS All right everybody knock it off. Look, I’m sorry…what did you say your name was?
 
HEIDI
(beaming) Armando!
 
ARMANDO Si , Armando. Armando Valenza, froma Sicilia. You seea my cousins, they coma here froma Sicilia about eight years ago. They starta this restaurant in America. They write to my Aunta Rosa that if anyone wants a joba, then come to Brookaleen to starta workin.  So me and my Papa, how do usaya, my padrino, grandpa always want to see America, so we are heara to go to worka! 
 
HANS I’m very sorry but your cousins are no longer here. They moved out West somewhere. Maybe California? 
 
ARMANDO California? Hollywooda? Ah, theyra all potsa out there…Crazy a movie stars!
 
HANS Yeah well, it’s a living I guess. In any event they didn’t leave a forwarding address with us so unless you have any other cousins in Brooklyn…
 
ARMANDO You kiddin, Ima italiano. I gotta plenty of cousins. Buta they are alla back in Sicily.
 
HANS
Then I’m afraid you’re out of luck Armando.
 
ARMANDO Manega realo. Now what am I a gonna do? Me and my papa, we spenta all our money to getta hear. We got nothing left.  We got nowhere to astaya...
 
WENDI Can’t you wire for money from back home? You know from your cousins?
 
ARMANDO 
19
 
They’re nota that kinda cousins. (Optional, he pulls out and opens a switchblade)You donta wanta borrow money froma them, believe me. Their stilla Sicilliano! Oh manega!
 
HEIDI
What does he mean?
 
HANS
You don’t want to know.
 
ARMANDO What area we gonna do nowa? Me and my papa? Liva on the streets? It getsa cold in Brookleen. 
 
HEIDI
Why can’t they stay with us?
 
HANS
What are you talking about?
 
HEIDI The little apartment you have in the basement.  You set up an extra cot and they’re all set to go.
 
HANS
But I use that as my office.
 
WENDI
You use that to play your saxophone Hans.
 
HANS Out of the question!  We don’t know these people.
 
ARMANDO Buta senore, we coulda be a biga help around hera. My Papa, he’s an expert cook in Italia. 
 
WENDI
But I do all the cooking!
 
 
ARMANDO
(He picks up the menu) Is thisa the menu? No wonder nobody’s  ina here. You gonna need a lota helpa.
 
HANS
I don’t think so.
20
 
 
(More yelling from outside in Italian)
 
ARMANDO
Scusi una momento (he goes to door) Alrighta papa, keepa you shirta on! Manega! (he exits)
 
HEIDI Come on dad, why don’t you let them stay here a while till they get on they’re feet.
 
WENDI Honey, they’re complete strangers.  We don’t know anything about them.
 
HEIDI Of course you know them. You’ve seen “The Godfather”.
 
HANS
That’s what I’m afraid of.
 
HEIDI Look, the father knows how to cook. Maybe he can spice up the menu a little. Armando can help me wait tables.
 
WENDI She may have a point Hans. Joey wants us out of here and if business doesn’t pick up soon, she’s gonna get her wish.  As much as I thought this restaurant idea was crazy, we’re here now and I think we should do everything we can to make it work.  We put them in the basement and see what happens.  Although I’m not sure I want that Armando around you Heidi.
 
HEIDI Mother, I am not a child any more. I’m twenty two years old!
 
WENDI In American years your twenty two years old. In Sicialian years you’re thirty -five, hot and already been divorced twice!   
 
HANS
Your mother’s right.  
 
HEIDI Dad, look at this place. We’ve got three empty tables in here another twelve in the back catering room.
21
 
 
HANS I was going to rent the back room out for kid’s birthday parties. You know, do my old ‘Swisso