Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Review of Cemetery Club

When Jennifer Howard told me that she was performing in Cememtery Club with the Valley Players of Waitsfield, Vermont, a drama about 3 widows who regularly visit, and sometimes polish the tombstones, of their dead husbands at a Jewish cemetery in Queens, I was struck by the irony. Here I would be traveling a full 8 hours from the tiny house where we crash in Queens, the house where our backyard looks out on those very graves! (One of whose otherworldly Jewish residents is no less than the great Harry Houdini.)

Yuhp, all of life's a stage.

Here's a review of last Sunday's matinee performance.

Cemetery Club
by Ivan Meschell
Directed by Tom Badowski

The sameness of Vermont accounts for its beauty. The same green mountains, giving way to the same green fields giving way to the cookie cutter cows and the picture postcard barns, some standing, some slouching, but all distinctively Vermont.
Living in Vermont, I've come to count on the regularity of long winters that run a month or so too long, giving way to mud season and then the long awaited lush green summers, berry picking, giving way to apples and the storage of a few bushels to get us at least through September and the mad headlong rush back into brief autumn and another too long winter, but much beloved (by skiers, snowboarders, writers and recluses alike) winter.
But it's the sameness that makes the sudden surprises so unexpected.
Yes, I had traveled from our home in Castelton to Burlington and beyond many times, but never having strayed off the main roads, I was exhilerated by the dips and curves of Route 17, where a ride I anticipated would take ten to fifteen minutes, verged on an hour as we twisted and turned our way to Waitsfield.
That's where the surprise occurred.
In a squat brick building circa 1850 three actresses defied their own Vermont accents to reproduce a New York City twang, and spoke with the rapid fire one-liners that author Ivan Meschell had invented for the three Jewish widows kibitzing and kvetching on an overstuffed sofa.
Who knew?
Dramatically another surprise stalked the audience when this quick witted repartee turned serious, and the actresses portrayed the poignancy, frustrations and rage of aging.
So unexpected was the shift that the audience was still laughing as Lucille, an aging femme fatale ( or so she likes to pretend) delivers the harsh truth of aging, lonliness and lies as way a method acting approach to survival.
From the wisecracking Lucille, actress Joyce Crabtree, wrings out genuine pathos, and when at the end of the play she leaves the graveside of her diminishing social circle, one feels deeply the heaviness of the solitude we all must face.
In the same unexpected way, Doris played by Andrea Kisler also took the audience by surprise with her own fit of anger when with a drink splashed in Lucille's face, she defies any image of her as a hand wringing widow to be ignored. Similiarly Ida, played by Jennifer Howard, does not allow the audience to dismiss her as one more over the hill old lady, when poignantlyshe reveals her own deep needs as a woman who chooses not old age, but ongoing life.
(Sam the butcher, has a tough job fending off the advances of the widows, but played by the shuffling Kirk Lilley, one can imagine the charm of his vulnerability. )
So much for sameness.
(And so I do plan to return to the home of the Valley Players for more of the same, vital community theater that both entertains and provokes.)


At 3:38 PM , Blogger Sheela Wolford said...

I really enjoy the rhythmic roll of your writing. Great review. I, for a time while reading it, was in Vermont, a state I have yet to physically enter. And the Jewish women...oye, I've heard them plenty here in Brooklyn. The synchronicity of the Cemetery Club is to die for...Nice.

At 2:03 PM , Anonymous Marilyn said...

Hey, why didn't you tell me you were going. Next time let me know.
What's their website?

At 6:45 PM , Blogger Eben Reilly said...

Yes, by all means check out their upcoming season.

Sondheim's next.


Plus they just seem like friendly folks to get to know!

At 6:49 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eben only a writter of your wit could write such a loving review of such an awful play without lying

At 6:31 AM , Blogger Eben Reilly said...


Now that's an interesting twist in your sentence-- and you're right, I chose the finest element of the play: the performances of its actors after intermission. Did you stay long enough to see how these actors shifted from verbal slap stick into real theater.

But in any case, thanks for the comment and stop by any time!

At 10:07 PM , Blogger Sheela Wolford said...

Your reply to Kira speaks to your character:

Good and whole.

Glad you are my friend!

At 10:38 AM , Blogger Eben Reilly said...


So good of you to keep popping by.
For any and all interested in literary gab and the day to day workings of a writer's world visit Sheela's Land of the Blue Whale-- a vast, billowing turquoise chair on which she is sailing through the final voyage (this summer) of her first novel.


At 12:15 PM , Blogger Sheela Wolford said...

Ahoy matey!

Life in the blue whale is divine!



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