+++EXTENDED THROUGH SUNDAY MAY 17TH+++
There’s nothing funereal about Ivan Menchell’s The Cemetery Club, now on stage at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas–nothing slouchy about it, either. Director Susan Sargeant has a real talent for teasing out comic moments from deep within dramatic scenes and illuminating humorous elements within revelation of universal truth, with genuine flair. She fills a panoramic palette with Menchell’s two act script about three elderly but spirited Jewish widows, girlfriends, living in Queens, who find their lives defined by routine visits to their deceased husbands’ graves and strive to search for more out of life.
Morbid? Not at all. Vivid, energized script meets its match with versatile, confident director and five grounded, diverse, professional performers for an evening of superbly delivered one-liners, amusing comic bickering, a little schmaltz, some hubba-hubba, a whole lotta love….
Menchell, a Yale School of Drama grad and recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship for playwriting, premiered the play at Yale Repertory Company and toured it to Broadway in 1990. In 1993, it found success as a genre movie directed by Bill Duke starring Ellen Burstyn, Olympia Dukakis, Diane Ladd, Danny Aiello and Lainie Kazan. It could be treated as dinner theatre fare along the lines of iconic TV series “Golden Girls”, but CTD’s director and cast never rely on stock shtick or milk the audience unduly for sympathetic response. They give it the full production treatment it deserves. Are you paying attention? Trust me. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry.
The powerhouse trio includes: Ouida White as vivacious, romantic hopeful Ida, Linda Comess as resigned, reluctant participant in drab widow’s weeds Doris and Nancy Sherrard, larger than life and chasing revenge for her deceased hubby’s infidelities, as wisecracking Lucille. At her first entrance upstage, Sherrard sweeps into the cozy living room set, decked out in a full-length mink, fairly glowing with self-important outrage, and barks out “Sonofabitch!” A once in a lifetime scripted entrance moment with maximum impact. The fun cascades forth.
Rounding out the tidy female ensemble in Act II is Susan McMath Platt as “the other woman” Mildred. Platt is a formidable comic force in her own right, clad here head to toe in yards of shimmering silver lame and cackling a laugh only a hyena could adore. As the sole male character on stage, butcher Sam, widower suitor to Ida, UNT Theatre professor H. Francis Fuselier holds his own with the sharp-tongued bevy of feisty females and brings some tender yin energy to their overpowering yang ambience. A multiple Rabin winner, Fuselier touches the audience’s hearts with his simple, low-key portrayal exuding sincerity and hope. Again, director Sargeant expertly guides her seasoned cast to find the natural balance between comic and dramatic moments as relationships unfold and life’s surprises take all off guard. Pleasure to watch these pros at fine-tuned play.
Set, lighting, sound, and props by Wade J. Giampa, Tristan Decker, Lowell Sargeant and Tish Mussey provide the ideal atmosphere start to finish. What a team! Costumer Aaron Patrick Turner must have had more fun than everybody else combined in designing and assembling the quirky, unique costumes that do so much to help each actress explore the tiniest nuance of character. Job superbly done.
No surprise, The Cemetery Club is a solid hit with Dallas audiences. It has been extended through Sunday May 17th. No downer funerals, no lugubrious laments, no fooling.
Tickets: 214.828.0094 or http://www.contemporarytheatreofdallas.com
Review as posted on Lakewood-now.net
George Wada photo From left: Linda Comess, H Francis Fuselier (seated), Ouida White, Nancy Sherrard