Venue: ARTS Theatre, 53 Angas Street, Adelaide
Season: 8pm Wed to Sat to 12th November 2011, 2pm matinees on Saturdays.
Duration: 2hrs 10min incl interval
Tickets: adult $20/conc $17/children and students under 17 $9
Bookings: Weekdays 10am-5pm on 8410 5515, Venueix outlets, BASS 131 241 or http://www.bass.net.au/events/enta/CEMET2011/
Ivan Menchell's play is about three ageing Jewish widows from Queens, New York, Doris, Lucille and Ida, who meet once a month at Ida's home for tea, then go to the cemetery to visit the graves of their respective deceased husbands. Doris is still completely faithful to her late husband and wants nothing more from life than her memories of their life together. Lucille, whose husband was a philanderer, now believes that gets her own back on him by flirting outrageously with men, and she continually advises the other two to follow her example and play the field. Ida is coming to the insight that she has finished mourning and is ready to move on with her life.
Sam, the widower local butcher, bumps into the trio at the cemetery one day when he is visiting the grave of his late wife. Lucille tries outrageously to grab his attention and Doris is appalled at her behaviour, both of them missing the fact that his interest is directed towards Ida. When they finally catch on, Lucille and Doris jump to their friend's aid, discouraging Sam from wooing Ida by convincing him that she is not ready to date again. They are really more concerned that his interest in Ida might spoil their own friendships with her. They eventually realise, though, that they have done the wrong thing and make amends.
That, really, is all that there is to this play, and much of the dialogue relies on one-liners for the laughs. It is formulaic and the the stereotypical characters are rather one dimensional, leaving it to the director and cast to try to make something of this play through the performances.
Director, Loriel Smart, is fortunate to have found a cast that can take this rather uninspiring script, under her skilful leadership, and turn it into something much better than an episode of a television sitcom. Pam O'Grady gives Lucille a vibrant and bubbly personality that hides an underlying loneliness. Her lively portrayal and her interactions with the others gives rise to a lot of the comedy. Penni Hamilton-Smith's Doris is at the other end of the scale, prim and proper, giving O'Grady a perfect foil for many comic interchanges. Julie Quick's Ida is a more sensitive and balanced soul and maintains a certain degree of stability in the group by moderating the extreme differences in the lifestyle attitudes of the other two. All three characterisations are far more well-developed than the script would seem to suggest, a tribute to the talent and experience of these fine actors.
John Greene plays the gentle butcher, Sam, bemused and confused by the three women. He begins to see Ida, taking her out frequently, and he and Quick make a believable connection, cautiously exploring their feelings for one another after a lifetime of commitment to their former partners. Greene shows us that growing love and the difficulty he has in understanding the warning of Lucille and Doris. Instead of taking Ida as his guest to yet another wedding of a friend who has had a string of husbands, he agrees to drive all three, just as an acquaintance.
Julia Whittle takes the smaller role of Mildred, whom Sam takes as his guest to the wedding of the serial bride, at which the trio are to be bridesmaids. Doris and Lucille see Ida's reaction to seeing Mildred with Sam and they realise what they have done. Whittle does a fine job of presenting a character that has all of the qualities to shatter Ida and make her friends repent.
The main set, by Patsy Thomas and Stanley Tuck is a smartly stylish room in Ida's house, where most of the play takes place. A drop showing a large section of the cemetery, painted with considerable detail and accurate perspective, is augmented with some gravestones to represent the final resting places of the husbands.
There are some very fine performances here that carry this play, and it is for these that it is worth seeing, as they overcome the weaknesses of the script. Grab a ticket for one of the remaining performances.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.