The action takes place in 1942, at the end of the second year of the war in Italy. The Jovine family, consisting of 50-year-old Gennaro Jovine, his wife Amalia, a beautiful thirty-seven-year-old woman, their children – the elder Mary Rosary and Amedeo and the youngest Rita, lives in a small, dirty and smoky apartment on the first floor. In the period of the fascist regime, they exist on the money received from the work of the “underground coffee house”, which they keep in their apartment, and on the income from the food trade on the black market.
Amedeo, a young man of about twenty-five, works for a gas company, and his sister Maria Rosaria helps the mother at home. In the morning, when Amedeo is going to work, indignant at his father, who ate his portion of pasta,
Don Gennaro is surprised that in their house there are products that can not be obtained by cards. He is against having anyone in his family engaged in speculation. Amalia, however, responds that she does not have anything from resale, but simply provides a service to Errica Krasavchik, who leaves her lots of goods. Recently, he brought a large number of products, including cheese, sugar, flour, lard and two centners of coffee, which Amalia fell asleep in the lower mattress. A frightened Amedeo runs in, who has already managed to go to work with his friend Federico, and reports that Donna Vicenza, one hour after the quarrel with Amalia, decided to substitute the rival and bring her to the carabinieri. Her threats were heard also by Donna Adelaide, a neighbor of Amalia, who now in all details retells the speech of Donna Vicenza.
The Jovine family, however, does not panic, but begins to enforce a prearranged plan whose purpose is to mislead the carabinieres. Don Gennaro goes to bed and depicts the deceased. The rest pretend to be deeply grieving relatives, and two young people even dress as nuns. Soon the brigadier of the Chappa carabineers enters with his two assistants. He is a man of about fifty. He knows his business; life and service have tempered his soul. He perfectly understands that in certain cases, especially in Naples, you need to pretend that “something” you do not notice. He ironically notes that there have been too many late dead in Naples. Straight epidemic! Then, turning to the official tone, he offers everyone to stop the masquerade. He asks the “deceased” stand up and threatens otherwise to handcuff him. Nobody wants to surrender first and stop the rally. Chappa does not risk touching the “deceased”, but promises that he will leave only when the deceased is carried off.
From a distance a siren’s signal is heard, announcing the raid of enemy aircraft. Chappa’s assistants flee to the shelter, some of the company gathered in the room follow them. Then Chappa, delighted with the exposure of Donna Gennaro, promises him that if he gets up, he will neither arrest him nor do a search. Gennaro stands up, and the brigadier, pleased with the fact that he was not mistaken, restrains his word. Then, under the sincere admiration of those present, the generous brigadier Chappa leaves.
The next events of the play take place after the landing of the Anglo-American troops. The room of Donna Amalia shines with purity and luxury. Amalie herself, too, has become quite different: she is smart, with jewelry and looks younger. She is preparing for the birthday of Errica Krasavchik, who will celebrate the evening at her coffee house. The busy traffic in the alley gives the impression that there has come “freedom” and food supplies are being sold in abundance.
Don Gennaro disappeared a year and a half ago after one of the air raids. Since then nothing has been heard of him.
Behind Maria Rosaria come two friends, with whom she is going in the evening to go on a date. Girls meet with American soldiers and are sure that they will marry them when their beloved will collect all the necessary documents for the wedding. The possibility that young people will leave for America without them, does not frighten girls; from their glances and pause, it is evident that, through a certain, impermissible line in their relations with their beloved, the girls have already crossed, They are leaving.
Errico appears in the coffee house. Now he is an archimillionaire and dressed gorgeously. The fact that he is the women’s queen of the quarter, he is well aware and flattered his vanity. He conducts business with Amalia, but she likes him and as a woman. He wants to talk with her about something important, but they are constantly hindered by someone. In the room comes Don Riccardo, he lost weight, turned pale, dressed poorly, he looked miserable. A few months ago, he lost his job and is now barely making ends meet. Before, he had two apartments and a house. He had to sell the flats, and lay the house. The redemption period has passed, but Riccardo asks Amalia to make concessions and extend it. She treats him ruthlessly and harshly, reminding him of the times when he and his family used expensive shops, and her children ate a potato pea soup. Ricardo is humbled and, muttering something, leaves. Handsome once again tries to convince Amalia to become his lover. Amalia is not indifferent to Handsome, but can not yield to her desire. Three days ago she received a letter addressed to Gennaro, from a man who had been with him for the last year. Gennaro should return. Their conversation is interrupted by a sudden appearance from the street Federico, and then Amedeo.
Maria Rosaria sad returns from a failed date: her lover has already left for America. She confesses to her mother that she committed an irreparable offense; mother suits her daughter a scandal and beats her. On the doorstep, Don Gennaro appears, followed by a crowd of shocked neighbors. He was in the concentration camp, fled, went all over Europe and is now glad that he came home and sees his relatives. During the celebration of the birthday, no one wants to hear about what Gennaro had to endure, and he, under the pretext of fatigue, leaves for Ritucza’s room.
The next day the girl is called to the doctor, who says that if you do not get one medicine, then the girl will die. Nobody can get this medicine. Even in the black market it does not exist. Amalia in despair. Having learned that Jovin needs to save the child, Riccardo comes to the coffee shop, who accidentally turned out the right medicine, and gives it to Amalia for free. The behavior and words of Riccardo make her think about her heartless behavior towards him. Gennaro aggravates her torment, calling her madness her pursuit of big money, behind the jewels.
Amedeo, who contacted Peppe Ram and helped him drive cars, pondered, listening to his father’s words, and happily escaped prison, although Chalpa’s foreman was waiting for him at the crime scene. Maria Rosary, who confessed to her father in her sin, Gennaro forgives. Amalia, he also relieves the soul and inspires faith that it is. still be able to become a decent person.