Review by Joe Szekeres
Ivan Menchell's ‘The Cemetery Club’, concerns three Jewish widows, at various stages in their grieving process, who meet once a month for tea before going to visit their husbands’ graves. Lucille is feisty and just wants to have fun. Ida is ready to start a new life. Doris is still carrying the torch for her late husband and is critical of how the other two behave in public.
These ladies have been each other’s rock of support in dealing with the passing of their respective husbands until Sam, a widower, enters the picture. The women must decide whether there is more to life than re-visiting and reliving the past.
This opening night production invoked many emotions in me thanks to Director Karch and Producer Larry Westlake’s solid visionary work in creating a sense of believability in the thrust stage performance space of the Village Theatre. Britt and Stephen Noll’s set construction and decoration beautifully enhance Ida’s living room on a slightly raised and sturdy riser constructed by David Widenmaier. The Nolls and their team have created a comfortable looking living room in Ida’s home complete with a plush couch and two chairs. Downstage, there is a stark reminder of the three husbands’ headstones.
Greg Hertel’s original NYC photos are stunningly gorgeous, and I wish I could have bought one or two of them.
Greta King and Larry Westlake are to be recognized for their precise attention to prop details. I hadn’t seen a silver standing ashtray for quite some time. The rotary dial phone was a nice touch. Since this story takes place in the 90s, I wondered why it would have been used. Although these women are trying to move forward, they need constant reminders of stability from their past. The rotary dial phone in this case would have been a part of their deceased husbands’ lives too, and the women can’t part with it yet.
Nice musical soundscape selection by Messrs. Westlake and Karch at the top of the show, between scenes and to open the second act. Several audience members were humming or singing along with some of the tunes (and yes, I was too). Chris Northey’s lighting design is smooth and fluid and helps in the transition to each scene. Andra Bradish’s work in costume and Gloria Worman’s work in hair and makeup presented five uniquely different characters. I heard some ladies around me snicker at the style, look and colour of the bridesmaid dresses worn in the second act; however, given the status this is unseen friend Selma’s umpteenth wedding, it is comically plausible that the dressmaker might have run out of ideas.
‘The Cemetery Club’ is another example of a true ensemble play and I applaud STG for its selection as these five seasoned performers get a chance to shine. What intrigues me is the fact it was written by a male playwright who was twenty-five at the time, and who obviously understood the many emotions of womanhood. Director Karch obviously cared very much about this story as well, and his respect and affection for these characters and the performers are defined.
Molly Lubell, Malorie Mandolidis and Patricia Byrne endearingly captured my heart as Lucille, Ida and Doris. Their performances are realistic and true while they also throw in a touch of sassiness and a bit of bitchiness on the side. The return from the cemetery visit in the first act, and the return in the second act from Selma’s wedding is great fun to watch for their comic timing. I’m sure rehearsals with these ‘Golden Girls’ and Mr. Karch must have always been in fine form.
As Sam, Harry Hochman captures a uniquely genuine persona of someone who is tired of feeling lonely and wants to rejoin the living once again. Mr. Hochman does not allow these gals to steal all the laughs whatsoever. One moment occurs as the ladies are getting ready to leave for the wedding, and Lucille makes her ‘grand’ entrance. Ms. Lubell’s uproarious flirtation with Mr. Hochman’s silent staring is wonderfully executed. The second moment occurs when Sam brings his date to the wedding (nice work by Susan Sanders as clingy, ‘uppity’ and ‘dressed to the nines’, Mildred). The silent musical chairs game played to indicate how uncomfortable and awkward this situation has become is great fun to watch.
Final Comments – In his Director’s Notes, Mr. Karch writes ‘The Cemetery Club’ is a comedy, and yet might it border on television situation comedy?
Let’s face it – we need a chance to laugh today given the status of world events playing out around us. But in the comedy of ‘The Cemetery Club’, there is a reminder for all of us that we too will face great sadness, loss, hurt, fear and mistrust, as Mr. Karch writes, since life events will begin to take shape and unfold in our personal lives. I don’t believe any twenty-two-minute televised ‘sitcom’ in one episode can deal respectfully and truthfully with the issues listed in the Director’s Notes. Thankfully, this ‘Cemetery Club’ never borders into the realm of ‘sitcom’.
Presented by the Scarborough Theatre Guild at the Scarborough Village Theatre, 3600 Kingston Road Scarborough. Performance dates: April 7, 12, 13, 14, 19 and 20 at 8 pm. Matinees: April 8 and 15 at 2 pm. Visit their website for further information or for on line ticket sales.