One of Ivan Menchell’s three Broadway credits, The Cemetery Club
first opened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in 1990—and three years later jumped to the big screen in a middling film starring Ellen Burstyn, Diane Ladd, and Olympia Dukakis. Here, at 2nd Street Theater, it has recycled back to the stage, with the main characters Ida (played by Susan Benson), Lucille (Rachel Deegan), and Doris (Gloria Anderson) as three Jewish widows who gather each month in their “cemetery club” to visit their husbands’ gravesides.
Menchell’s script balances the three women’s banter with much more serious themes, and the piece has nice momentum. The underlying source of conflict throughout the play is the different views that Lucille and Doris take on relationships after widowhood, about responsibilities to dead husbands and to one’s self. At first, Ida acts as a neutral third-party. That is, until Sam (Ken McClintock), the local butcher and a widower himself, is introduced. As she shows more interest in Sam, Ida is caught in the middle of Doris and
Initially, the story places Ida at the center of the action, setting up the audience to view her as the “main character:” she has a love-interest, is in the middle of her friends’ conflict, and should, in fact, be going through transitions. However, by the end, it is clear that Lucille, not Ida, is the center of this play. Lucille is the only character with a true arc, and her transformations and revelations drive the story. This fact is powerfully revealed in the final few scenes, but it would have been interesting to see Menchell subtly set up this revelation earlier, giving less attention to the red herring of Ida and Sam’s relationship. Though romance and friendship are secondary themes in the piece, taken as a whole The
Cemetery Club has much more to do with painful losses, the passage of time, and feeling left behind.
2nd Street Theater delivers the level of performance expected from an amateur community theater organization. The participants are enthusiastic, well-rehearsed, and represent the literal action of the text successfully. But the scenes that had potential for emotional resonance could have done with more realism. There were times when the performers settled for representational shows of emotion (indicating sadness rather than being sad), which impeded, in some cases, the built-in charm of the characters.
All told, a safe bet for a fun theater experience with some laughs along the way.
2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave.
June 12-27, 7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 pm Sundays
$19 adults, $16 students/seniors