It’s 1942 and two Jewish boys Jay (Jos Slovick) and Artie (Keith Ramsay) are forced to stay with their severe and terrifying Grandma (Bernice Stegers) in Yonkers, New York, while their salesman father looks for work. War is raging in Europe, but although Grandma is a German refugee, events far away are hardly touched upon: the battle in Yonkers is a more subtle one, fought between members of the same family, all struggling for survival and looking for love.
Neil Simon’s Pulitzer-winning play is superbly recreated by director Derek Bond, whose interpretation beautifully balances the warmth, wry humour and pathos of Simon’s writing. The cast is excellent, with a stand-out performance from Laura Howard as Aunt Bella, still living at home and desperate to break away, but hampered by her mother’s selfishness. Bella’s view of the world might be childish, but her resolute demand for love as her right is both piercingly astute and heartbreaking. Through her blunt appraisal of her mother’s harsh parenting, the emotionally neglected members of her family begin to adjust their values and there’s a glimpse of hope for the future. Bernice Stegers is profoundly moving as the bullying matriarch who refuses to acknowledge her own pain, and there is strong support from Jonathan Tafler, Nitzan Sharron and Polly Conway as Grandma’s three other children, each damaged in their different way. All the performances share an intelligence and subtlety that bring out the poignancy of Simon’s dialogue, making this an uproariously funny and yet tenderly emotive night out.