Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Cemetery Club
Also see Richard's recent review of WRENS
The Cemetery Club, of course, is emphatically not provocative. But director Sam Hack wheels out some great older actors (I mean, they can all still walk on their own, and everything) for Ivan Menchell's famous comedy. It ran for only six weeks on Broadway in 1990, but is revived regularly out here in the provinces, though somehow I'd never actually seen it till now. Perfectly staged, it runs through September 24, clocking in at about two hours and twenty minutes, including one intermission. The script often reads like a movie-length version of "The Golden Girls," but the actors bring to it a very personal, Chekovian degree of naturalism that's also comedically on point.
The most exciting thing about it is Gabi Maul as Ida, testing the waters of dating and relationships for the first time since becoming a widow. She's just brilliant to watch, and indeed every actor on stage seems to know every millimeter of the acting space around them. Her brief cha-cha dance scene with Jan Meyer as Lucille, and Helene Meyer (no relation), as Doris, is delicious.
Helene Meyer draws us in with an elderly, frequently awkward, tentative sort of line delivery. But then, in spite of all that verbal fumbling, she never misses a single beat of a crucial laugh line, not once, not out of all the twenty-odd laughs that she scores. Color me bamboozled.
As a recovering actor, I felt jealous of Aaron Mermelstein playing Sam, a widower. He'll probably never have a scene partner as emotionally crystalline is this Ida, in her initial relationship rhythms with him. And he's no slouch either, creating great realism and making every show he's in worth watching. Jan Meyer is a gangly delight as the senior femme fatale. And when the situation becomes dire, Helene Meyer quietly brings down the full weight of pointed honesty onto the visual plane before us.
That visual plane also includes a lavish little cemetery upstage-center, where the only thing missing seems to be some forest-mimicking lighting effects. The three women go there every month to clean the headstones of their departed husbands, hence the title of the show.
There is fine work as well by Tina Renard, as the interloper Mildred. Like all the others, she fills up each moment and then proceeds to add a little stylized acting on top, while never spilling a drop. The fine costumes are by Jean Heckmann.
You can train all you want as an actor, on Shakespeare and Molière and Sheridan. But sooner or later you're going to have to make something like this work, too (a genre play), almost in spite of itself. Here's a case where it really works, and the two extremes of old and new, of classical and popular, come into perfect balance.
The Cemetery Club runs through September 24, 2023, at Clayton Community Theatre, 6501 Clayton Rd., Clayton MO. For tickets and more information please visit www.placeseveryone.org