KNOWING CAIRO, Rivendell Theatre Ensemble, at Victory Gardens Theater. If you left at intermission–and few would blame you–you might think that Andrea Stolowitz had flunked playwriting 101. Cranky 80-year-old German Jew Rose is driving her nondescript therapist daughter, Lydia, crazy. Enter indifferent African-American home nurse Winsome. After an hour onstage together, Rose and Winsome have become buddies, Lydia has grown jealous, and nothing is at stake.

Stolowitz struggles with credibility in the second act, as Lydia’s jealousy becomes so extreme she nearly sabotages her mother’s medical care–though the sum total of Winsome’s nursing is the application of a single Band-Aid. But the playwright suddenly develops a keen eye for the nuances of character when Rose and Winsome emerge from their shells.

Director Kimberly Senior coaxes rich, detailed performances from her actresses, who plumb unexpected depths. As Winsome, Ora Jones maintains a stoic reserve while allowing the warmth of her character’s aching heart to overflow. As Rose, Jane Galloway Heitz expertly weaves together ferocious independence and desperate need, creating a heartbreaking portrait of old-world nobility on the brink of collapse. Watching these two actresses together, you might believe that real life is unfolding before you–perhaps the most satisfying experience the theater can provide.