The Cemetery Club: A Really Amateur Theater Review

I wouldn’t belong to a club that would have me as a member, Groucho Marx famously said. There’s one club we all have the chance to join if we take the risk of loving someone: the Cemetery Club.

A look at the unfinished business of a marriage, the sadness of losing a loved one, the nervous flutters of meeting a potential new love, and the sparring and forgiveness that can take place in friendships of many decades, The Cemetery Club opens this weekend at the Spokane Civic Theatre.

I got a sneak peek at the dress rehearsal in return for which I’m sharing some of my impressions via social media. (If you end up buying tickets as a result, give a shout-out here, on the Civic Facebook page or @SpoCivicTheatre on Twitter so my friend and Civic marketing director Allyson Shoshana gets credit for her mad social media marketing skills J ).

You first have to sign the disclaimer noting that I am not only not a professional theater critic, I’m not even an amateur theater critic, and I’m no Bobo the Theater Ho.

Instead I’m someone who cries at Hallmark commercials (although I forget to buy cards, as friends and family can attest), considers “willing suspension of disbelief” a normal everyday occurrence, grew up on a pretty steady diet of old Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers/Bob Hope movies, and is a sucker for happy endings.

If you have a girlfriend who can finish your sentences—and sometimes does, much to your irritation—and who never lets you get away with anything, you’ll see yourself on stage. Lines about aging, plenty of jokes about death and cemeteries, and the unseen Selma whose many weddings “are like reunions” drew plenty of laughs at all the right spots from the small audience who saw it with me.

Likewise some great physical comedy, character-revealing mannerisms and gestures that spoke volumes. You could feel the audience response to Thomas Heppler as Sam Katz revealing his nervousness with a truly awkward Groucho Marx imitation, or to Mary Starkey as Doris saying volumes without saying a word just by banging an iron down on the ironing board.

The “heartwarming comedy” description on the Civic website gives you part of the flavor but not all of it, unless "heartwarming" is code for "makes Barb cry."

Without giving away any plot lines I’ll just say that I was first moved to a few tears by Ida cooking up a storm after her Murray died, then cried through several scenes in Act II. I always consider it a good sign when the audience goes silent with intensity, as they did more than once.  And I wasn’t the only one—I heard you sniffing, people! Seriously—take a hanky.

I have few bones to pick with any of it. The staging in the Firth Chew Studio was wonderfully effective for this, and the audience responded to facial expressions we couldn’t even see thanks to the responses from the other actors on stage. The casting was also dead-on (and tell me if I'm the only one who thinks that Vera Ora Winslow, the actress who plays Mildred, looks like Bea Arthur).

Just a few things—because even when my disbelief is willingly suspended my continuity editor keeps ticking—that are really script issues, not acting/directing/staging:
  • Would a Jewish woman of that generation from Queens say “For Christ’s sake!” as Lucille does, and then “Goddamn!” in the next sentence?
  • Would a Jewish restaurateur really name his place Klein’s Korean Kitchen (KKK)?
  • When Selma’s wedding is first discussed it’s in two weeks. A month passes between that and the next scene at the cemetery and Selma’s wedding is still two weeks away.
  • I’m sure this was deliberate in order to give Doris and Ida things to do while they get through all the lines involved but honestly, no woman is going to zip up another woman, not tie her bow, and then come back to tie the bow later. Just doesn’t happen—not going to leave those dangling ties.
I told my husband he probably would have gotten restless during Act I (I can hear him saying “Get on with it already!” because he gets tired of caustic banter) but that he would have appreciated Act II because he likes love stories and happy endings. Plus he would have known the exact moment I started to cry and would have put his arm comfortingly around me.

I laughed, I cried, I’d see it again. You should go.

What other (more professional) critics have to say:

1 comment :

  1. Obviously, I have a bias coming in to this given that I work at Civic. AND only seeing part of a rehearsal (first half---which apparently in theatre speak is really the first act. Um, I still call intermission "half-time". I'm new, so go no.) I appreciate your sharing your full dress rehearsal experience. Much of what you said is so right on (Disclaimer: I'm in marketing & communications...not theatre...and I've no idea how the heck actors act, directors direct and prop people prop)!!

    I haven't seen the bow/zip scene yet, but could happen....esp. if one is scattered, right? People futz or at least I do (oh look at me getting all narcissistic =). And add to that, my Mom, Brooklyn Jew Supreme, has been known to throw out more than a few "Christ" & "Goddamns"...I mean where do you think this I got this mouth? Only a mouth my mamma could love. As to the KKK, this makes me giggle, just sayin' (yes, yes, overused phrase being overused again). Can't speak to timing....

    All in all, I love your views...what it was like to be part of the audience, your reactions, your Barb-crying. I so appreciate your taking the time to not only go to Civic but to share your experience. Mary is positively evil in her perfection of disapproval, Melody's face melts in to such sweetness that I melt, Tom is great as the Butcher - made me crave chicken livers and Susan? Well, he!!, Mom personified...that coat, that hat, those bargains!

    Can't wait to see it tonight with Cory...we'll see if he knows when I'm about to cry! That's it, The Cemetery Club is a relationship test!!

    Thanks again, Barb.


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