Wyong Drama Group’s first production of the season is The Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell, an award winning playwright, television and screenwriter perhaps best known for his work as writer and producer on the long-running CBS comedy The Nanny, but he also has several Broadway and off-Broadway credits for shows such as Bonnie and Clyde and The Prince and the Pauper. The Cemetery Club was first produced for Yale Repertory Theatre’s Winterfest, 1987 and Menchell later adapted it as a screenplay for the 1993 movie starring Olympia Dukakis, Ellen Burstyn and Diane Ladd.*
The play is set in the Jewish community of New York, where Menchell was born and raised, yet its themes are timeless and universal expressing experience that is common to those who have lost partners and loved ones. The story revolves around the relationship between three widows who meet once a month to visit the graves of their late husbands. Each has a very different response to their loss. Doris is wholly devoted to her husband’s memory and lives for the monthly visits, while extrovert Lucille wants to “play the field” to level the score with her philandering husband. Ida’s grief is quiet and enduring but she is beginning to feel the loneliness of her solitary life and when Sam the local butcher, a widower himself, begins to court her she is caught between the conflicting advice of her friends and pursuing a path that is best for her. This is a touching story, full of gentle humour, that highlights some of the emotional and practical concerns involved in the loss of a loved one while examining the relationship between friends of long standing: the warmth and camaraderie that exists between three women who know each other very well yet can still surprise one another; the support they provide each other, and the misunderstandings that arise between them.
WDG’s production is directed by Ron Baker, one of the group’s most experienced directors. He has a great love of theatre and always chooses scripts that are a little unusual and thought provoking as well as entertaining, and he notes that he is most attracted to scripts that focus on character and relationship. He has been responsible for many fine plays at Wyong, including the recent highly acclaimed production of Harp On The Willow. His direction is characterized by care and attention to detail in all aspects of the production – for example, in his choice of Klezmer music that helped to establish the social setting of the action. He also has high praise for the hard work his cast have put in to meet the challenge of the script’s New York Jewish accents.
He has chosen his cast from among the Central Coast’s best loved and most experienced actors. Doris, Lucille and Ida are played by Pam Campbell, Julie Bailey and Margaret Holdom, respectively. Pam is a WDG life member and veteran of almost 25 years. Her recent memorable performances have included Girlie in Inheritance and Bridie in The Shoe-Horn Sonata. Julie, who has been an active member for nearly thirty years, has recently appeared as Mother Raphael in Harp on the Willow and Hannah in Little Women. Margaret has many years of experience acting and directing musicals and is well known to audiences of Wyong Musical Theatre Comapany, but her first role with WDG was as Marie, the prim WI leader in Calendar Girls. Margaret brings both stage and personal experience to her sensitive and moving portrayal of Ida, dedicating her performance to her late husband, Peter. All three actresses bring their wealth of stage experience, as both actors and directors, to bear, ably exploiting the humour inherent in the sarcastic banter between friends who are very familiar with each other, but they also have the range to convey the poignancy of those moments when that friendship is tested. Laszlo Weidlich, another well loved WDG veteran who has played roles as diverse as Manuel in Fawlty Towers and Joe Keller in All My Sons, gives a gentle and subtly understated performance as Sam, while newcomer Kate Clark makes an immediate impression in her cameo role as Mildred.
This funny and moving play closes this weekend but tickets are still available from the WDG website at www.wyongdramagroup.com.au or call 1300 665 600.
* Biographical detail mainly drawn from Wikipedia and the author’s bio at http://www.samuelfrench.com/author/1898/ivan-menchell
Image courtesy of WDG publicity. Please click on flyer to view full size.