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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, January 17, 2000

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
"The Cemetery Club's" three leads, clockwise from top,
Sandy Ritz, Sylvia Hormann-Alper and Jo Pruden,
give marvelous performances.

‘Club’ of
high achievers

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


Bullet The Cemetery Club: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 30; Manoa Valley Theatre; $20; call 988-6131

Mourning a deceased spouse hardly sounds like the stuff of comedy but laughs are plentiful in Manoa Valley Theatre's production of "The Cemetery Club." It's the type of material Vanita Rae Smith has been featuring in her "reader's theatre" series at Army Community Theatre, and MVT has brought Smith over to guest direct this production.

Smith has brought two staples of ACT "readers theatre" with her: Jo Pruden, starring as Ida Shapiro, and Richard Pellett, who appears in the major supporting role as Sam Katz.

Anyone who knows "The Cemetery Club" as a 1992 film will be impressed at how well the story fits into the smaller confines defined by Ida's living room and a stylized representation of the cemetery where she and her two friends commune each month with their deceased husbands.

Doris Silverman (Sandy Ritz) has been mourning Abe for four years. Visiting the cemetery is the central event in her monthly routine and she expects nothing to change until she is buried beside him.

Lucille Rubin (Sylvia Hormann-Alper) remembers Harry primarily for his infidelities. She leads an extremely active social life between cemetery visits, aggressively pursuing new male conquests and spending the money Harry left her.

Ida is in the middle. She doesn't feel quite certain that she'll ever want to be involved with another man. She also isn't sure that she wants monthly cemetery visits to be the center of her existence forever.

When Lucille spots Sam during one of the visits, she brings him over to join the others at Abe's grave. Sam, an eligible widower of questionable reputation, finds Ida more interesting than Lucille, and Ida is soon wondering if a little social life with a man -- dinner and movie -- would be such a bad thing.

Suddenly, the survival of the "club" appears to be in jeopardy.

For what it's worth, Ida and her friends are Jewish, but the Jewishness of the characters and their milieu seems much less important here than in the film version. The women could just as easily be Southern Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Roman Catholics, or members of any other racial, ethnic or religious group in a country that mourns the dead and allows older women some degree of personal freedom.

Pruden is perfectly cast. Ida is acerbic yet sensitive and vulnerable. Pruden illuminates every facet of the character with great effect.

Hormann-Alper provides much of the early comic entertainment value as the comically brazen Lucille. That's only the opening salvo in a tremendous performance.

Ritz is doubly impressive. She brings a potentially flat character to life while also giving a convincing portrayal of a much older person. The versatile Pellet likewise does a remarkable job playing a man perhaps 20 years his senior.

Pruden, Hormann-Alper and Ritz cap it all in the hilarious yet poignant scene that finds the three widows rebounding from their misadventures at a friend's wedding. The interaction among the three is perfect. The sudden changes in mood and direction are negotiated beautifully.

And then there's Margaret McKea (costume design). McKea does a Po'okela-worthy makeover of Cecilia Fordham, who has a small but important supporting role. To say anything more about Fordham than that she is unrecognizable would spoil the surprise.

With Smith directing, the story moves smoothly. Act I ends well before it wears out its welcome. Act II likewise maintains an appropriate momentum. The comic interplay is as fast and snappy as a good sitcom and the more poignant facets of the story are never slighted or played for cheap laughs.

Ida is the apparent protagonist as well as the character that the audience seems intended to identify with. The focus shifts to Hormann-Alper in the final scene and her performance adds another dimension to the story and our interpretation of it.

Jason Taglianetti (sound design) contributes essential components to several scenes. Karen Archibald (set design) and Lloyd S. Riford III (lighting) complete the environment.

"The Cemetery Club" may be too much for someone who has recently experienced the death of a loved one, but otherwise, MVT's production is a delightful best bet in community theater.

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