One of the many joys of this job is getting to visit one of the (hundreds) of theatre in Los Angeles I have never before. Such was this, the Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, and getting to see Ivan Menchell's The Cemetery Club.
Readers probably realize my own tastes lend themselves towards the edgy, often the stylized and even the disturbing. All true! This play however proves something else. A well-written, well-done, straightforward and essentially realistic work about a trio of widows in New York who meet once a month and visit their husbands. That the three couples were close friends for decades is the building bloc of this social gathering.
Ida (Susie McCarthy) is the "normal" one, i.e. the hostess at whose home they first meet, the glue that holds the club together really. She's also the one who most feels a need to move on, to perhaps find someone else, maybe marry again.
Lucille (Amanda Karr) comes across immediately as a flamboyant tease, brash and competitive, fun-loving and irreverent. Her new fur coat and its gradual accessories become a lovely little running gag.
Finally there is Doris (May-Margaret Lewis), the oldest of the three senior ladies, easily the most devoted not to say slightly obsessed with her late husband. She's the most judgmental, the most experienced and in some ways most wise, but also the one who needs the others the most--they are literally all she has, while she lacks the strength or interest in finding anyone else.
Hopefully, the above conveys somewhat the amount of nuance amid the deep but relatively simple passions of these characters and their story. For the record, nobody kills anyone. No horrible crimes reveal themselves. Everyone begins sane and ends that way. Here we see domestic drama, the intimate kind of story much more like those dramas we ourselves create, endure, then (hopefully) emerge from wiser. I say "drama" as opposed to "melodrama" because unlike the latter roles between characters change. Everyone sooner or later behaves selfishly or at least foolishly. They each hurt and help each other. The story itself focuses upon a male presence who disturbs this already-tottering tripod--Sam (Perry Shields), a friendly butcher and widower and a pretty perfect example of a nebesh (or so the director James Rice mentioned after the show). I looked up the definition in Gentile dictionaries after the show, and they give a much less nuanced image. Rice described a nebesh as a quiet, unaggressive man who avoids discord but who has a profound knowledge of himself--polite, but not foolish nor cowardly.
Sam happens to visit his late wife at the same time as the Club members are visiting their husbands, with sparks quietly bursting between himself and Ida. Doris and Lucille panic a bit, seeking to somehow rid themselves of the invading source of chaos. What they do is...well, not kind. Pretty soon they realize they've done something wrong. And yes, it is bound to come out.
The drama then plays out appropriate to the age of the characters (including an almost walk on named Mildred, played by Diana Mann). As said, nobody kills anyone. But the pain is real. The revelations that emerge are likewise real. The anger and guilt and confessions and hope--all real. We can feel the truth of that.
Which is at the heart of what good theatre is, at least in my eyes. That intimate sense of friends and love and meeting the ways the world changes--the stuff of life that is.
The Cemetery Club plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm until March 17, 2019 at the Little Fish Theatre 777 Centre Street, San Pedro, CA 90731.