Bittersweet, romantic comedy to open at Rose Villa
Life is full of ups and downs — friendships can become shaky and partners die, but there is still fun to be had. That's the lesson of Ivan Menchall's play "The Cemetery Club," this season's final offering from the New Century Players, opening May 4 at Rose Villa in Oak Grove.
The play is about "the enduring friendship of three Jewish widows, each of whom is in a different stage of healing and moving on with her life," said director Julie Akers.
Once a month, the three women meet for tea and pay their respects to their husbands, who are all buried in the same cemetery. The intrusion of eligible widower Sam into their lives triggers the play's conflict and forward action.
Akers has directed "The Cemetery Club" before and loves that the play is "witty and wise and has wonderfully meaty characters." She especially relishes the fact that this is one of the few plays that allows people over 60 to fall in love before an audience's eyes.
The biggest challenge in directing the show is achieving just the right tone, Akers said.
"Since this is a romantic comedy, I need the characters to be seen as fully realistic individuals and avoid broad, stereotypical strokes," she said.
At the same time, the play is funny, and the characters can be seen as caricatures, requiring that she walk a tightrope to find the perfect balance, Akers said.
"Hands down, it is working with the actors in this play that has been the most fun. I have enjoyed every minute of the process."
The three lead women in the play are Arleen Daugherty, Virginia Kincaid and Mary Weigel. All have appeared in previous NCP productions, including "Persuasion," "Curious Savage," "Witness for the Prosecution" and "Glorious!"
Daugherty plays Doris, who is playful, has a quick wit and a big heart. Her character was happiest in the past, when her husband, Abe, was alive, she said.
But with her visits to the cemetery, Abe is still very much a part of her everyday life.
"She loves her friends, Ida and Lucille, for they have all shared so many wonderful memories together as three couples, when their husbands were all alive," Daugherty said.
Working with the other actors has been the most fun part of the play for her, and she added it has been "hilarious to see the characters come to life during rehearsal."
Ida, Kincaid's character, is just getting over the recent loss of her husband. She is starting to feel she is ready to find a new companion.
But "Ida is apprehensive over whether her late husband would somehow be upset to miss her regular cemetery visits," she said.
The arrival of Sam on the scene, "threatens to change the dynamics of the set-up, and Ida finds she must navigate the diverse feelings of her friends while remaining true to herself," she said.
Calling Ida the calmest of the three women, Kincaid added that her character is "tough, brave and seemingly ready to dive into the unknown," and often is the mediator for the "snarkiness between the other two."
She added that in almost any group of three friends, two often will be pitted against the other.
"Here, the loyalties constantly shift among the three, sometimes within a single paragraph," Kincaid said.
As the flamboyant Lucille, Weigel's character projects a "bigger-than-life personality," but that's how she hides her insecurities.
Unlike the other two characters, Lucille's marriage was not a happy one, and so her attitude toward her deceased husband is quite different. She is, however, a loyal friend to Doris and Ida.
"Sure, she fights with her friends, but she will defend them with her last breath," Weigel said.
Working with the cast and director has been the most fun for her.
"We are constantly cracking each other up. This is my first time working with director Julie Akers. She had a vision for telling this story, and she has brought us all along on the journey," Weigel said.
The lone male in the cast, Joseph Silver plays Sam, a widower who encounters the three women at the cemetery during one of their visits.
He said it has been challenging working with such sharp women, trying to stay out of traps like "mansplaining" when Sam gets himself into a tricky situation.
"He's as honest as he can be, and is secure enough to make amends and apologize," Silver said.
His character is "steady, reliable and an OK guy," he said, noting that Sam is lonely after losing his wife of 40 years.
"His life feels empty. There is no such thing as getting old gracefully, but it is better to do it with someone. People live longer that way."
Audiences of all ages will take something different to heart after seeing the play, Silver said.
Young folks will see the direction their lives might take, while older ones will recognize themselves and their experiences, he said.
"Audiences will love the plot of the story, but will walk away having experienced the deep connections they will make with each of the characters," Akers said.
Daugherty hopes audiences will see the fun the actors are having on stage, as they let their sweetness show through.
"Through the dark subject of loss, this play reminds us the value of friendship is immeasurable, and the script contains an abundance of poignant, quick-fire New York Jewish humor," Kincaid said.
She further noted the play "will resonate not only with anyone who has suffered a loss and is facing change, but also with those eager for an enjoyable take on the human condition."
"Audiences will enjoy the humor that these women bring out in each other. Their friendship is deep, and I think many people will be able to relate to the characters and recognize themselves or their friends in them," Weigel said.
"And just like in life, there are also some very poignant moments."
Visit the "Cemetery"
What: New Century Players presents "The Cemetery Club," by Ivan Menchall
When: 7:30 p.m. May 4, 11, 12, 18 and 19 ; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 6, 13 and 20
Where: Rose Villa Performing Arts Center, 13505 S.E. River Road, Oak Grove
Tickets: $20 adults, $15 for seniors and $10 for students. Tickets available at the door or online at newcenturyplayers.org, or call 503-367-2620.
More: The play is directed by Julie Akers. The cast includes Arleen Daugherty, Virginia Kincaid, Joseph Silver, Ellen Spitaleri and Mary Weigel.