June 20, 2009
Review: Weathervane actors put comedic light on death
BY KATHY WESLEY
For The Advocate
Although the nursery rhyme warns us to “never laugh as a hearse goes by,” we nonetheless often find ourselves reaching for humor in the face of death, loneliness and other scary human situations.
All these emotions — and many more — are part of the landscape of “The Cemetery Club,” a two-act play by Weathervane Playhouse.
In the hands of a excellent cast and tight direction by Matthew Trombetta, we find ourselves laughing in the face of death — and learning something about our own feelings along the way.
Ivan Menchell’s play follows the path of three Jewish widows in Queens, N.Y., who take different routes toward resolution in coping with the deaths of their husbands.
Doris (Dawn Farrell) holds vigil each month at her husband’s grave, as she has the last four years, feeling that being true to her man means cherishing his memory and carefully clipping the ivy on his headstone.
Ida (Angela Palazzolo), whose husband died two years later, is beginning to wonder whether her monthly visits to the cemetery with Doris are holding her back from living her life to the fullest.
Lucille (Ellie Unger), whose philandering husband hasn’t been missed much in the year he’s been gone, is itching to “play the field” and leave the “cemetery club” behind.
Widower Sam the Butcher (Dennis Kohler) throws the little women’s group off-kilter, as Ida and Lucille take an interest in the shy, older gentleman and hilariously concoct ways to attract his attention.
Balance eventually is restored, but not before two of the women plot against the other’s happiness and challenge each other’s beliefs about love and loyalty during life and after death.
Snappy dialogue helps ease sting of the truths revealed in the play; jokes and comic situations abound, both in the cemetery and in the complications of the wedding and the ladies’ “Three Musketeers” style relationship.
The acting is sterling. Unger is a delight, two parts fox and three parts wiseacre. Farrell is solid and almost obsessively serious, clinging to the past as though it were the only present. Palazzolo is both vulnerably and funny, portraying a woman struggling for balance between Doris’ and Lucille’s extremes.
Kohler is subdued as the shy but earnest Sam, well portraying the collision between a grieving husband and excited schoolboy who falls over himself trying to keep a woman from noticing how interested he is in her. And Barbe Helwig makes a grand entrance and evokes laughter as Mildred, a clueless wonder woman who also snags Sam’s attention.
Conquering the New York accent is challenging, but Unger and Palazzolo do it with ease.
Confronting the realities of life and death is not something we should do alone. Armed with grace and humor, “The Cemetery Club” is a bit of laughter therapy anyone can use.
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