The Arena Dinner Theatre’s holiday offering is a charming little play by Ivan Menchell titled The Cemetery Club.
The Cemetery Club! “What?” you say. “That sounds like Halloween! “
Don’t plotz. It’s a comedy, already.
What I like about The Cemetery Club is that it is a universal story about, shall we say, ladies of a certain age. The play is set in the city, and the ladies are Jewish matrons, but most women are going to recognize these characters and their foibles. It’s a story that could easily happen in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne or Decatur. Trust me: You know these ladies, or ladies just like them.
These are reasonably happy women who have a pretty satisfying life routine: they meet their friends, they have tea and cake, they shop, they cook, they gossip – they visit their husbands’ graves at the cemetery. Who could kvetch? And yet.
They have the bothersome sense that maybe there could be something more in their lives. Who hasn’t felt that? But to find that “something more,” these ladies might have to make a change. And we all know how well ladies respond to a prospect of change.
The three ladies are Ida, a sweet peacemaker, played by Hazel Stream; Lucille the party hamster, played by Carol Howell-Wasson; and elegant yet fragile Doris, played by Donna Frey. The dialog among these longtime friends will resonate with anyone who has ever had a girly posse – words of love alongside a poke in the backside.
Their words make the story authentic. The ladies aren’t superheroes or corporate magnates – just regular women who do regular things. The rhythm with them is easy and familiar; even when they are completely ticked off with each other, all will all eventually be forgiven. They know this, and so do we. The excitement comes from watching them move through it, which they do with a lot of style and grace.
So everything’s cool, right? The girls are groovy.
And then they run across that most dangerous of all things: an eligible, interested man. Bruce Hancock stands out as Sam the Butcher, delivering an achingly vulnerable performance of a widower who is finally figuring himself out. Well, sort of.
Also watch for Judy Whitney as Mildred, who plays The Other Woman, or The Fox Among the Chickens. When it comes to dating, relationships and love, I sometimes wonder if we ever grow up beyond the age of 15 or so. Teenagers to veteran adults can enjoy this exceedingly un-smooth course of true love.
Director Becky Niccum helms a beautiful little show that is, in its quirky way, perfect for this time of year. The themes of love, friendship, nostalgia and family all fit – no matter the denomination of one’s celebration. This is the time of year when we recognize the end of something and the beginning of something new. To let something go can be a little painful, but for the future, there’s hope and healing.
These characters show the heroism in small, ordinary acts – acts that allow a new spirit to emerge. Perfect, indeed, for this time of year.