There is blind old Stella (Thelma Ruby, replacing the indisposed Miriam Karlin) with her Muslim nurse Sadia (Elizabeth Uter; if her role was cut, would it be known as an uterine contraction?) in a Jewish residential care home. These two learn to love each other more as the play progresses.
Then there is Stella’s lumpen lesbian daughter Helen (Gillian Hanna) who lives with Amanda Boxer’s grotesquely butch remaindered radio producer Avril in a ménage that stirs memories of Frank Marcus’ The Killing of Sister George, though Boxer is far more like Margaret Courtenay on the rampage than Lally Bowers in trousers.
And nervous little middle-aged Martin (Tim Stern), first seen edging into a “hairy bear” pick-up relationship in a karaoke bar with younger, rougher Leo (Jason Wing), turns out to be Helen’s employer at the travel agents, while Leo – almost too neatly – also works at Stella’s care home.
Director Anthony Biggs stirs the pot with casual understatement, though the incomprehensible video projections in Cherry Tuluck’s design are a mistake and the music is mournful bordering on deadly. But Permutt, who can sometimes sound like a poor man’s Jewish Alan Bennett, skillfully manages his narrative so that we really do care about the characters.
And there are some excellent scenes, notably a dinner party at the top of the second act where the domestic dykes play host to the gay guys; then get down and dirty on their respective career failures; and as poor Helen suffers the cold blast of maternal indifference when she’s only trying to help and think of the right thing to say or do; how many of us will not recognise this dilemma as cruelly and accurately observed?
With better design and costuming, fiercer direction, harsher playing and a little less eye-bulging maundering on from the always excellent Miss Ruby, this could yet be one of the best new plays on the Fringe this year… it’s certainly one of the most poignant and affecting already.