BWW Reviews: THE CEMETERY CLUB - Laughter and Tears Abound, by Guest Reviewer Peter Nason
BWW REVIEWS: The CEMETERY CLUB" - LAUGHTER and TEARS ABOUND
Written by: Ivan Menchell
June 13- June 28th, 2014
GUEST REVIEWER - PETER NASON
With "The Cemetery Club" at the Carrollwood Players, the critics' cliché holds true: You'll laugh; you'll cry; you'll ask the person sitting next to you for a tissue. Director Frank Stinehour's sure-handed direction has made this a production perfect for a quality community theatre. The audience certainly related to writer Ivan Menchell's story of love and loss. You could hear the married couples' howls of laughter soon followed by their quiet sobbing. They certainly could empathize with each of the characters' emotional rollercoaster ride"The Cemetery Club" centers around three Jewish women-Ida, Lucille and Doris-who meet once a month to visit their late husbands who have been buried in the same cemetery. Most of the action takes place in Ida's comfy home. Ida (beautifully played by KarYn Lorenzetti) is pretty much the levelheaded one of the group. She misses her husband but tries to get back on her feet with the local butcher, Sam (Ron Forth). That's when she begins to change, first physically (by coloring her hair) and then emotionally. She is the anchor of the story and a respite when things get a little crazy.
Speaking of crazy, Ida's "Cemetery Club" friend, Lucille Rubin, is feistiness personified. As played by MaryAnn Ra Bardi, who played the role in the same location twenty years ago, Lucille is a rabid Chihuahua in need of a Ritalin. She's also a tell-all sexpot (imagine Blanche Devereaux from "The Golden Girls" with a machine gun motor mouth). Ms. Bardi is a hoot, to put it mildly. She tears up the scenery like a pit bull with a doll in its mouth. Even though there was a stumbled line or two, the audience was quick to forgive because Ms. Bardi was so entertaining. She was certainly a favorite of the crowd, who couldn't wait to see what she would dare do next.
My personal favorite in the show was Judith Sachs who played Doris. Doris is so sad after her husband, Abe, passed away and she has never really gotten back on her feet. She hates seeing people moving on because she has such a hard time moving forward herself. But Ms. Sachs doesn't play her as a woe-is-me sad-sack; she is the ultimate eye-roller and her exasperated facial expressions are a highlight of the show. There was also a much-needed naturalness with her, and it played well against the more aggressive nature of Ms. Bardi's Lucille.
Sometimes in a show the hardest parts to play are the normal people. Oh, it's easy to be John Merrick in "The Elephant Man" or Igor in "Young Frankenstein," but an Average Joe is extremely difficult to portray. (Look at the character of Sheriff Deon in "August: Osage County," who has to play a sane regular guy amongst the cray-cray Weston family; making someone so normal be a compelling presence is tough work.) Such a character is found in "The Cemetery Club": Sam the Butcher, played with down-to-earth realness by Ron Forth. We understand this ordinary man's plight; he is torn between missing his wife and meeting new lady friends. Forth's delivery is so at ease that we root for him and want him to make the right choices, but that obviously doesn't happen all the time.
One of Sam's choices turns out disastrously wrong. In a marvelous cameo as one of Sam's paramours, Jennifer Hall's Mildred is like Frank Drescher times ten. She's adorably annoying and steals every moment she is onstage. Not every part is a lead, and here Ms. Hall proves her weight in gold (or fiery red, to match her dress) and is as memorable as if she had been onstage the whole play. Director Frank Stinehour keeps the action moving, but more importantly, he keeps his actresses real. It is a relief to see actresses in a community theatre production taking their time, slow-burning, reacting and letting things happen rather than pushing them. He was also in charge of the lighting and sound design, both with equal aplomb.
James Cass, artistic director and set designer, is proving himself to be one of the best in the area. Ida's house is stunning, with photos filling the shelves and the top of the piano-indicative that she cannot let go of her late husband's memory. It was beautifully designed, and it was only hoped that the cemetery (featured in three scenes) would match its splendor. But a white curtain with some gravestones in front of it would disappointedly have to do. It's not bad; it just seems like an afterthought, especially when matched against the greatness of Cass's main set.
Aside from a few stumbled lines and some longer-than-usual set changes, the show flowed marvelously. And in the end, everyone had to borrow a hanky (it is recommended that you bring your own). "The Cemetery Club" proves why the Carrollwood Players is considered one of the finest community theatres in the area; it does things right.
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