Doris, Lucille and Ida take tea – photo supplied by Sewell Barn Theatre
Sewell Barn Theatre take us into the heart of the Jewish community of Pittsburgh in their latest offering to Norwich theatregoers. Ivan Menchell’s The Cemetery Club is an unusual stage work in that it gives four out of five leading roles to women, and all characters are at least middle aged. First produced in Washington DC in 1990 the play was popular enough to be made into a feature film in 1993.
If the name did not give you sufficient clue the set removes all doubt about the action of this play, with a split set part living room and part cemetery. Three widows meet monthly to visit their late husband’s graves. Ida (Mandy Kiley) is ready to move on to the next chapter in her life, while her glamorous pal Lucille (Julie Benfield) is positively pithy about her ex. They are joined by the sharp-tongued Doris (Gill Tichbourne) who appears still devoted to her husband four years after his demise.
On one visit to the graves they bump into butcher Sam (David White) mourning his late wife. Lucille springs on this fresh man but it is Ida who starts a tentative relationship with him. Jealousies disrupt the three friends’ normal social life and arguments start, with characteristically sharp Jewish turns of phrase ramping up both the humour and the pathos. Lucille and Doris plot to sabotage their friend Ida’s romance. Matters are set to come to a head on the day of their friend Selma’s latest marriage. We never get the wedding party invite but we see the three girls before and after the event, where drink has taken its toll. Heading for the wedding Sam opted to take another woman with him, Mildred (Ros Swetman). Oh dear.
This play is well written, and is played with great competence and energy by this skilled cast directed by Claire Stretton. The set is one of the most impressive that I have seen at the Sewell Barn and as ever the players make full use of this atmospheric space. It is a play that I might have hesitated to go to as a customer, judging wrongly that I would not be interested in the content and context, but that would have been a big mistake. This may be a gentle comedy, but it lets us look at the feelings and lives of a group of people normally out of sight in TV, film and stage work. In films in particular we enter a world where only young and incredibly beautiful women can even consider sex and romance while older men have to be able to street fight like a drunken teenager. This play is the antidote to such piffle, and is therefore worthy of your attendance and enjoyment. You will enjoy this play, which is flawlessly presented by Sewell Barn.
The Cemetery Club by Sewell Barn Theatre company is on at 7.30pm on 3-5 and 9-12 August 2023, with a 2.30 matinée on 12th August. go to www.sewellbarn.org for more info or call 0333 666 3366.
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 3 August 2023