Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set in 1990 in Forest Hills, Queens, the story is a fairly simple one that focuses on three Jewish widows, friends for over twenty years, who meet each month to visit their husbands' graves at the same cemetery. Each of the women is in a different stage of mourning. The outgoing Lucille has a steady stream of dates as a way to get back at her unfaithful husband Harry, while Doris, whose husband Abe died four years ago, has no need to move on from her past and her constant devotion to her husband. Ida is somewhere in the middle, not sure if she's ready to move on from her happy memories of her husband Murray and frightened about what that change would look like if she did. When they encounter widower Sam, the shy local butcher, at the cemetery one day, it sets in motion a budding romance that could threaten the trio's friendship.
Menchell's script is filled with gossipy moments and feisty bickering, plus a lot of punch lines that deliver big laughs. The dialogue and plot comes across, at times, as a mashup of "The Golden Girls" and Steel Magnolias, with many hilarious one liners and heart-tugging moments those works are famous for. While it isn't completely perfect, and is a bit repetitive at times, the play has interesting characters who change and grow, with a nice payoff as the more we learn about each character deepens our understanding of them and the rich relationship they have with each other.
Marney Austin, Pamela Fields and Marcia Weinberg play Ida, Lucille and Doris, respectively. All three characters are grieving in different ways, with some hiding their true feelings, and all three actresses deliver refined and realistic portrayals of the interesting and nuanced women. Austin is superb as Ida, who knows that it's time to embrace life and try to find love again, while Weinberg delivers a sincere and solid portrayal of the deeply devoted widow. Fields, who also directed, gets some of the best quips in the play and delivers them with aplomb. But when we see the cracks in her façade start to break, Fields does a great job of showing us the truth that Lucille is hiding and reveals how she, just like Ida and Doris, is truly hurting. Al Benneian is warm and charming as Sam, with a portrayal that easily evokes a man who truly loved his wife yet believes he is ready to move on and find love again. In a smaller part, Barbara Acker does well as the loud, talkative and annoying Mildred.
Fields' direction ensures the heart-tugging moments aren't too cloying while the hilarious lines and situations deliver big laughs.
While The Cemetery Club may be a little too sitcomish at times, it is a charming tale about life and death, love and forgiveness, and the power of friendship. Theatre Artists Studio's talented cast deliver a production that is full of humor, as well as tender and touching moments, and is ultimately a warm, witty and heartwarming comedy of endurance, emotional strength and hope.
The Cemetery Club at Theatre Artists Studio runs through September 17th, 2017, with performances at 4848 East Cactus Road in Scottsdale AZ. Tickets are on sale at www.TheStudioPHX.org or by calling 602-765-0120
Director / Set Design Concept: Pamela Fields