The second show of the Walpole Footlighters' 85th season is Ivan Menchell's, "The Cemetery Club" and is set in Autumn of 2008. The show is the humorous story about three widows who meet once a month for tea before going to visit their husbands graves and it begins on the fourth anniversary of Doris' husband, Abe's death. Ida is sweet tempered, loves to bake cookies and is ready to begin a new life after her husband, Murray's death. Lucille is a feisty woman who wants to have fun and flirt with nearest man because as the audience later finds out that her husband, Harry cheated on her for the last three years that he was alive. Doris is prigish and judgmental especially when Sam, the butcher enters the scene. He meets the widows in the cemetery while visiting his wife, Myrna's grave on their 40th anniversary. Sam later shows up at Ida's house with chicken livers in a paper bag. Doris and Lucille meet with Sam at the cemetery, telling him that Ida isn't ready to move on with her life yet, squashing the budding romance between Ida and Sam. They later become guilt-stricken when it nearly breaks Ida's heart. Throw in a sexy blonde haired friend of Sam's Mildred who he brings to Selma's umpteenth wedding even though he still wants to date Ida and you have all the ingredients for a splendid comedy with some wonderful dramatic moments peppering it up in the second act. Seasoned director Marianne Phinney picks the five best people for these roles and shows a strong hand with her topnotch directing whether it is when you are laughing uproariously at the drunken scene after the wedding or when few seconds later the show turns dramatic with the confrontation scene between Doris and Lucille with them both flinging glasses of water and milk at each other, causing the audience to gasp in horror. Lucille's breakdown into choking up in this scene and the final one are superbly handled. Having seen Marianne's direction of "Hollywood Arms", I realize what a wonderful comic director she is but she tops herself with the handling of the dramatic moments in this show, too. Brava on a job well done.
Marianne blocks the show wonderfully obtaining all the laughs where they are supposed to be. The two story unit set was designed by Dan Sheehan. The lower level is Doris' home complete with a sofa, two arm chairs, a piano, a stereo system, a stairway on upper stage right, a kitchen area off stage right. The ingenious part of the set is that the cemetery is hidden from view by a light blue curtain that is the same color as the wall flats of Doris' home. The cemetery set is astounding with its realistic marble headstones with inscriptions and dates carved on them with a backdrop of hedges giving it added depth. There is different greenery at each grave with two stone benches at Harry and Murray's graves and a lot of ivy on Abe's. The lighting design is by Tony Liapis, Marianne's son. The Forest Hills, Queens, NY cemetery has tricky lighting sequences when each of the widows are speaking to their husbands at their individual graves but Tony handles the transition between them with ease. Assistant director, Peter Bradley keeps the show flowing along beautifully from scene to scene.
Roberta Kriegsman does a wonderful job as Doris. She delivers her lines with passion especially when she disapproves of Ida's budding relationship with Sam because it is taking time away from her friendship with Ida. When Ida exclaims she won't be going the cemetery with Doris, Roberta's facial expressions are priceless there and when she puts Lucille in her place. One of her funniest moments comes when she takes wedding cake, an apple, two oranges, a banana and numerous chicken wings out of her huge purse. The grief stricken scene where she doesn't want to give up their "club" with her throwing milk in Lucille's face is well done, too. Chip Winslow who I first saw as Mrs. Potts in "Picnic" delivers a warm and winning portrayal of Ida who although she still misses her husband very much, wants to go on living in the present moment. She steals the other women's purses after their first argument at the cemetery and wants them to make up with each other. One of her funniest moments is when she comments on Mildred constantly talking in the car and making a spectacle of herself. Chip also shines in the scene when she comes down the stairs when a tragedy occurs in the house, using only her facial expression to display her grief. She puts her head on Sam's shoulder at the close of the scene. The third member of this club is Lucille, excellently played by Barbara Schapiro. She makes this hot to trot broad a laugh riot with her crazy antics from her very first line when she utters "Son of a Bitch!" where she is worried that a handsome, tall blond haired man with a cleft chin has been following her.. Having seen Barbara play the sexpot, Rosemary in "Picnic", I know she could handle the hilarity of the role which includes her making Ida and Doris guessing how much she paid for her mink coat, hat and muff. The latter item is where she hides the wine she stole from Selma's wedding. Barbara delivers her one liners with ease and does a dramatic turn when she pulls off her blond wig after her fight with Doris and later at the grave when she pulls ivy from it, exclaiming she will not be visiting there every month.
Rich Morton plays Sam, the butcher who is chased after by the women in this show. He plays the nice guy who wants to get over his wife's death very well. He is chased by Lucille and constantly forgets her name and is very funny when he returns to ask Ida out with him a couple of times with a hangdog expression. Rich also has to endure the berating of Sam by Lucille and Doris when they confront him at the cemetery about moving too fast with Ida. He shows off warmth and tenderness when he apologizes to Ida for taking Mildred to the wedding. I have seen Rich in "45 Seconds from Broadway", "Pal Joey" and "Hollywood Arms". Susie Lawler makes a wonderful debut performance as Mildred, the sarcastic pretty blond friend that Sam is taking to the wedding. She makes the most of her stage time by clinging to Sam's arm, making it clear that he is her property and the others better not try to put the moves on him. So for a wonderful, funny and moving show be sure to catch "The Cemetery Club" at The Walpole Footlighters. You will be glad you did.