THE CEMETERY CLUB
by Ivan Menchell
Richardson Theatre Centre
Ida – Deborah Key
Lucille – Sue Goodner
Doris – Karen Jordan
Sam – Budd Mahan
Mildred – Nancy Lamb
Director – Leigh Wyatt Moore
Stage Manager – Penny Elaine
Co Set Designers – Greg Phillips and Leigh Wyatt Moore
Set Construction – Greg Phillips, Owen Deverich, and Kyle Chinn
Lighting Design – Wyatt Moore
Sound Design – Richard Stephens Sr.
Sound/Light Operator – Penny Elaine
Costumes – Glynda Welch, cast and crew
Crew – Jay Epps
Reviewed Performance: 2/1/2019
Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The moment one walks into the inviting and warm space that is the Richardson Theatre Center, you know you are in for a lovely evening. The storefront space off of Arapaho has been lovingly decorated with lots of comfortable sofas and tufts and rugs scattered about. The deep-red walls are covered with 30 years’ worth of past production posters. Complimentary wine, coffee, water and cookies, cake and brownies are handed out by welcoming staff. The night this play was reviewed the theatre lobby was full a good half hour before the show’s opening, the happy crowd of people enjoying the hospitality this theatre has on offer.
Ushered into the intimate space without a bad seat in the house, you are encouraged to take food and beverages with you if you’d like. Richard Stephen’s lovely easy-listening, jazz standards sound design envelops you as you walk to your seat through the comfortable set designed by Greg Phillips and director Leigh Wyatt Moore that looks exactly like what a Jewish woman of a certain age would live in, crammed with family photos, overstuffed furniture and lots of cushions. A room to be at home in.
After a lovely curtain speech that let the audience know this was the first show of their thirtieth season, the lights dimmed, and we all sat back and had an absolutely lovely and entertaining time at the theatre. We laughed loud and long, we got misty, some of us may have swiped away a tear as this excellent production of “The Cemetery Club” progressed. In the end we gave the talented cast and crew a standing ovation which was most certainly deserved.
The story of three Jewish widows who meet once a month for tea before going to visit their husbands’ graves is one that explores many aspects – long-time friendships (and all the mean things we might say or do in such a friendship), loss of spouses, and what to do when confronted with the loneliness that often comes in the third act of our lives. Each woman has a different approach to living their life after the death of their husband.
Ida, in whose living room most of the play takes place, is portrayed by Deborah Key. Key’s performance is a gentle one, and she hits all the right notes as a sweet-tempered person who realizes that she needs more than a dog and the once-a-month graveyard visits to be happy. She is a person who needs a companion. Key is adept at the comedy in this role as well as the heartfelt pain she experiences as the result of actions taken by her friends. She also has a wonderful way of listening to her fellow actors onstage and an essential goodness to her that shines.
Sue Goodner takes on the role of energetic Lucille full-throttle. Her feisty, funny, take-no-prisoners approach covers a deeper pain that is dripped out slowly during the course of the show. Goodner’s willingness to be “out there” in this role works wonderfully and it is she who drives the happily fast pace of this show. She serves up some of the best lines of the night as a full-of-zest woman who loves a good shopping deal and insists on life being fun – a person who wants and demands more than just “enough” in her life moving forward.
Elegant and quiet Doris is played by Karen Jordan. Her husband died four years ago, and a piece of her has died with him. Jordan is a delight as she quietly gets in her digs, and you understand that while some of her actions are selfish ones, they are made with the biggest and most vulnerable of hearts. Jordan’s timing with her zingers never failed to get the audience laughing, such as the moment when Lucille fusses at her for spending so much time cleaning her husband’s grave. Lucille says, “You clean this headstone more than I clean my dining room table.” Jordan let it land and then with a tone as dry as the desert returned, “Now you know why we never came to your house for dinner.” Jordan also worked well in her quieter moments. She was present for every moment of her time on stage.
The lone man in a cast of strong women, Budd Mahan as Sam the widower is a standout. His consistent deadpan delivery of his laugh lines had us roaring – as when at the end of a scene in the graveyard where the women have been chattering away as he silently nods and takes it all in. After the women leave, he leans over the grave of Doris’ husband and says: “And you thought you’d be able to rest in peace!” It was a hilarious moment, delivered perfectly. Another moment when we couldn’t stop laughing was when this actor remarked that he got a double by-pass on his 25th wedding anniversary… “at least I got something I could use.” Mahan is like the stalwart lighthouse among the swirling sea of women, and delivers a wonderful performance as a man searching for a way through a life that seems foreign to him without his wife by his side.
Nancy Lamb makes the most out of her brief presence in the show as an unwitting painful moment in Ida’s life. Her pert and pushy character grates on all the women onstage with powerful results, but not on us the audience. Lamb does a good job in the role and has found many moments to show her judgmental nature, such as adjusting some magazines in Ida’s house and pausing to fix a picture on her way out the door. She serves up a nice dash of bitter to the proceedings.
The whole cast has been well-directed by Leigh Wyatt Moore. She has created a recognizable, funny slice of life with this cast, and woven in many non-scripted bits that make the show pop. She’s created a wonderful ensemble feel with her cast that makes this play special. Even though this piece was written nearly 30 years ago, it has aged well and the jokes, as well-written jokes should, hold up. Moore has done an excellent job of allowing us to love these characters flaws and all and the pacing of the show was excellent. Moore didn’t shy away from the quieter, heartfelt moments, and it is in these emotional moments that the play connects viscerally with the audience. She has coached her actors to adopt a Long Island accent which helps with the delivery of much of the comedy, and her balancing of the sadness of this piece with true hilarity was masterful.
Keeping things in the family, the light design by the director’s son Wyatt Moore was well done – they went beyond merely allowing us to see the actors, but leant themselves to the mood of the moment and kept the focus of the scene where it should be. The sound and set design were also both very good, easy on both the ear and the eye and contributing to an excellent night of theatre this critic heartily recommends for all ages of theatre goer. Take the whole family and the grandparents too – they’ll love and appreciate it most of all.
“The Cemetery Club” runs Feb 1-17
For tickets, call 972.699.1130
Or go to their website, richardsontheatrecentre.net
The Richardson Theatre Centre is located at 518 W. Arapaho Road, Suite 113, Richardson TX.