SEAFORD GAZETTE Review by Derek Watts
Ivan Menchell's The Cemetery Club is now a regular of the amateur repertoire: gentle, not edgy, no bad language, and not controversial about some issue du jour.
It's a simple story. Three Jewish widows, long-time friends, meet once a month for tea, then visit their husbands' graves. There's sweet Ida, happy in her memories of Murray and in no hurry to "move on"; nascent party girl Lucille, who's finally getting payback against her unfaithful Harry; and Doris, whose devotion to Abe, even in death, seems borderline unhealthy.
Things are going along swimmingly until the arrival of Sam, a shy butcher whose deceased wife is buried in the same cemetery as their husbands. Sam is immediately pounced on by a purring Lucille, but it's Ida that Sam has doe-eyes for. The budding romance threatens to destroy the women's friendship, first because Lucille wants Sam for herself (although she gives up pretty easily), later because Lucille and Doris make a horribly misguided attempt to save Ida from potential heartbreak.
Skilfully directed by Cathryn Parker, her cast gracefully walked the tightrope between sly and slapstick. They also pulled off what are so often the banes of amateurs – judging the pace and nailing the accent. New York Jewish is not easy but its distinctive vowels and expansive gestures came across from the first curtain.
This is an ensemble piece if ever there was one, but Trish Richings [the predatory Lucille] gave us an outrageously over-the-top Bette Midler performance. Ida was delightfully and subtly played by Sylvia Aston, and her touching moments with Sam [played with a warm integrity by Alan Lade] were a tender counterpoint to the broad humour of the rest.
Doris [Mary Young] gave us a solid, understated and sincere reading of the devoted widow and Sue Shephard had a telling cameo as Mildred, Sam’s substitute wedding guest in the second half.
Cathyrn Parker also designed the most effective set – half New York apartment and half cemetery and the strains of Klezmer and Jewish folk music wafting through the auditorium reminded us constantly of the genre and the culture within which this delightly charming comedy is set.
A thoroughly rewarding evening , proving once more that when a cast and director are totally in sync, and attention to detail is paramount, amateur theatre can touch the heights – and the heartstrings.
SEAFORD SCENE Review by Gerrie Purcell
The Cemetery Club, a story seemingly about death, is in fact about relishing life, and the loves and the friendships along the way. The talented cast and crew of Seaford Little Theatre presented this warm and witty play with exactly the right degree of verve, wit and pathos to touch the audience’s hearts.
Cathryn Parker’s deft direction allowed the wonderful writing and characterisation in lvan Menchell’s play to shine through. Just as in life, we never know the full story at the beginning and should appreciate that first impressions can be deceptive. In Menchell’s carefully crafted play full of Jewish New Yorker gossipy quips and feisty bickering, each scene deepens the story of the three main characters. We first meet the three ‘merry’ Jewish widows, Ida, Lucille and Doris, at Ida’s New York home preparing for one of their monthly visits to their respective late husband’s graves at the local cemetery.
Ida, played with charm and grace by Sylvia Aston, is the lynchpin of the group. Ida misses her cigar-smoking Murry and reminisces about his dark wavy hair; and the fun that the three couples used to have on holidays. But she knows deep down that it’s time to embrace life and love again.
It would be easy to make assumptions about Lucille, as she breezes into Ida’s well-kept home with a swish of her newly acquired mink coat from the thrift shop. At first Lucille, played with wit and chutzpah’ by Trish Richings, seems a vain, man-hungry dolly-bird. But appearances can be deceiving and as the scenes go by we understand more about how much she is grieving for her philandering, real-estate agent husband Harry. Or is it that she is grieving for the marriage she should have had with him - a contented one like her two friends had had? We learn that the man-eater act is all show and that even now she couldn’t be unfaithful to Harry.
Doris sees that she has a duty to act in a proper manner as a widow and genuinely mourns the loss of her beloved Abe. Mary Young’s well-judged portrayal of Doris allowed us to warm to this woman who at first seems to be a judgemental, stick-in-the-mud. But her disapproval of Lucille’s flighty behaviour and Ida’s need to move on with her life is more understandable as we gradually learn how she lost her true soul mate, and how she would dearly love to still walk with him in the autumn sunshine.
As Ida’s prospective love interest and the spark that sets off the friends bickering, the role of Sam, the Butcher, is strong with Alan Lade’s assured performance as the well-presented, eligible widower. Sam had loved his wife but like Ida is ready to take a chance on love again. The would-be interloper into Sam and Ida’s burgeoning relationship is a minx named Mildred played with spirit by Sue Shephard.
The three women have a sparky, bickering but strong friendship but it is sorely tested, and nearly doesn’t survive Act II and yet another one of ‘Selma’s weddings’. As the three elderly bridesmaids prepare to get ready they remember dancing with their late husbands at Selma’s previous three nuptials. In the drunken aftermath of the wedding party, Ida realises that her friends have decided to intervene in her relationship with Sam and this almost causes an unbreachable rift. The rift is only breached by Doris’s death, her broken heart finally giving out in her sleep to let her go and to be with Abe.
The three women were friends in life, and now in death, and the play’s bitter-sweet ending has Ida and Sam facing life together; and the poignant image of Lucille dutifully maintaining her friend’s and her husband’s graves.
Yet again, the theatre’s backstage crew ingeniously created a set that transported us seamlessly from one hub of the action, ‘Ida’s home’, to the cemetery on the same stage. By the end of the evening we had all learnt a lot about life and death, and love and forgiveness from another wonderful show by the Seaford Little Theatre.
THEATRICAL EASTBOURNE BLOG Review by Stephanie Burton
Link to Blog is here
We both thoroughly enjoyed The Cemetery Club yesterday. It's a great witty script which SLT perform very well and the detailed set is beautiful. We were impressed with the New York Jewish accents - consistent and convincing throughout. From laughter at some of the wonderfully bitchy lines, the play had me practically in tears at one point. (You'll know when if you've seen it but I don't want to give away the plot if you haven't.) All the characters came across as very real people and I became totally engrossed in their lives.
I don't know if there are any seats left for tonight, tomorrow or Saturday. If there are, go snap them up! This is an excellent production that shouldn't be missed.
AUDIENCE LETTER from Paul Day
Congratulations on a really enjoyable and excellent production. As a Friend of Seaford Little Theatre I have been amazed at the talent and professionalism of the company - but this is quite the best production for many years (and there have been some outstanding plays too!!). The timing is perfect - and how you all managed to sustain the American accent throughout, I just can't imagine.
I just want to thank you all for a delightful evening - very amusing but poignant and heart-warming as well. Well done, and big thanks from a fan of the Seaford Little Theatre - who always enjoys an evening with you.