Thirty years and 25 hits after his first comedy opened on Broadway, Neil Simon won his first Pulitzer prize in 1991 for this darkest of his plays. Set against the financial hardships of World War II, six family members must depend on help from one of the most frightening figures of that era the bitter, immigrant grandmother. Grandma Kurnitz (Nan Tepper) holds her progeny fiscally and emotionally hostage to her rage against life. Most vulnerable are her minimally retarded daughter, Bella (Maria Spassoff), who lives only to take care of her mother; and grandsons, Jay (Zav Hershfield) and Art (Bridger Sadina), who are stuck in the house while their father travels to pay off a mob debt. While Simon's signature jokes find there way into this serious situation (mostly through the mouths of the boys), the tone is far from his usual fare. Fortunately for this production, the two youngsters are remarkably fine in their roles none of the old jokes about working with children rings true with these disciplined performers: Both display bright senses of humor and heartbreakingly convincing characterizations. Director Howard Teichman fares just as well with the rest of the perfectly cast ensemble, who all commit fully to the world they have created. Teichman is also to be lauded for an extremely crisp and well-paced production that honors Simons comic moments without losing the intensity of the family melodrama. Jeff G. Rack's simple set and Christine Cover-Ferro's well-reserached costumes serve the production beautifully without calling undue attention to themselves.
Mondays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: July 25. Continues through Aug. 28, 2008