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The Play’s The Thing: Stalwart Sternfeld bids farewell to the stages of Queens

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Monte Sternfeld is leaving town. If you said “Monte who?” then you’re just not with it, at least when it comes to the Queens theater scene, where Monte has been a recognizable presence for the last 25 years. When it comes to an upbeat and positive personality, there’s no one like Monte, all the more remarkable since he’s had cerebral palsy since birth.

So it was most appropriate on the recent closing night of the Parkside Players production of “Animal Crackers” that Kevin Schwab, its president, stepped forward at the curtain call, after just inhabiting Groucho Marx in a fabulous display of showmanship, to honor Monte for all his years of service to the group. Hats and costume accessories rained down upon him as he approached the stage.

By the way, hats off to the Parkside Players — based in Forest Hills at the Grace Lutheran Church — as they approach their 30th season. More so than any other theater company in Queens, they continue to maintain a solid core of people who get the work done. If you are just a member of the audience, you may not realize how much it takes to put on a show. And Parkside doesn’t shy away from the challenge of producing something out of the ordinary.

A native New Yorker, Sternfeld, 58, has lived in Queens for all but his first nine months, originally in Bayside and for the last 23 years in Kew Gardens. In 1985 he tried out for a Colonial Players show, didn’t make it but stuck around. Eventually he appeared in their productions of “You Can’t Take It With You” and “Stalag 17.” With another now departed company, Way Off Broadway, he gave a memorable performance in a scene from “Of Mice and Men.” And since 1988, Monte’s been a fixture at Parkside, including a role in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” It was a rare Parkside program that didn’t credit him for publicity and house staff.

Monte gets around, so you would often see him in the audience of many of the local theater groups having a great time. And besides giving you a big hello, he’s got a great memory, so he would definitely ask you about all your family members — and by name. In his own family, Monte has an older brother (Marc) in New Jersey, and he recently became the great-uncle to Lucy Jane.

If you meet Monte and you think he’s got the enthusiasm of a game show contestant, you’d be right. He’s made a couple of appearances on “Wheel of Fortune” and a few years ago won a few bucks on the daytime version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” For more than 30 years, Monte worked for the state of New York mainly as a Workers’ Compensation underwriter, but he’s now recently retired and headed south.

Finding New York winters tougher to take, he’s off this month to Century Village in Boca Raton, Fla. Asked what he’ll be doing down there, not surprisingly it will be to seek out a couple of theater companies and maybe some singles groups. Before long he’s sure to be as popular as he’s been in New York. But he’ll be back for a visit or two -- in September a nephew is getting married in Long Island City – so hold that curtain for him.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

Updated 5:50 pm, October 10, 2011
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