‘Cemetery Club’ offers laughs, heart

Stage Review

Kristi Scott (from left), Lina Aiko Krueger and Sandra Bowes appear in a scene from “The Cemetery Club.” BETH COOPER photo

Ivan Menchell’s “The Cemetery Club” is an incredibly evocative account of three widows striving for contentment amid chapter two of their middle-aged lives. The beautifully crafted script, filled with many very funny one-liners, is in many ways two sides of the same coin: a comical, sarcasm-filled first act and a sobering, mournful second act. Or as director Lee Garrow described it in last week’s preview of the ProArts Inc. production: “comedy with a little more meat.”

From its opening sequence, “The Cemetery Club” is dead funny as Lucille, brilliantly portrayed by Kristi Scott, kvetches to best friend Ida (Lina Aiko Krueger). Ida is the everywoman in Menchell’s play, grounded, pleasant, thoughtful and likeable. The third member of their club is Doris (Sandra Bowes), the least optimistic of the trio yet the most adjusted to a conventional widow’s life. The sassy Lucille perhaps masks candor with faux joie de vivre, while Ida, the most hopeful, is receptive to an additional life chapter.

Each has comedic moments to shine, such as Bowes emptying her purse filled with cake, cookies, fruit and chicken wings pilfered from a wedding buffet. Scott delivers a hilarious one-sided encounter with an information operator. “Katz. She wants to know if that starts with a C,” she tells Ida and Doris. “Samuel — how do you spell it? Start with and S and end with an L. This is not a Jewish woman.”

In silence, Krueger conveys one of the funniest hangover scenes I’ve ever witnessed. While struggling with an aspirin bottle, she nearly begins to cry when unable to open the childproof cap followed by a look of agony as she accidentally slams down her water glass a little too hard.

As Samuel Katz, Francis Tau’a provides another excellent performance as a widower and suitor of Ida’s. Menchell’s script is reminiscent of the classic New York Jewish comedy of Neil Simon, but asks an intriguing question in Act 2 that reaches across cultures and generations. Is the interference of loving friends in matters of love in the best interest of loved ones? Tau’a and Krueger are perfectly cast and convey such a natural onstage chemistry that the meddling of Doris and Lucille is distressing. Heeding poor advice, Samuel invites Mildred (Anne Jenny) to accompany him to a wedding that all will be attending. As tempers flare, tearful truths emerge and “The Cemetery Club” presents several significant and decisive dramatic moments.

ProArts and director Garrow are offering a noteworthy piece of theater that explores the many facets of love and death. Considering the intimacy of the ProArts Playhouse (and a sold-out opening weekend), it should be a tough ticket throughout the remainder of its run.

* ProArts Inc. continues “The Cemetery Club” by Ivan Menchell, directed by Lee Garrow. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 26 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Tickets are $26 (with Thursday kamaaina discounts) and are available by phone at 463-6550 or online at www.proartsmaui.com.