LARRY HENDRICKS Special for the Daily Sun
Three widows, lifelong friends, stand at the foot of their husbands’ graves.
It would seem, at first glance, that it would be difficult to find something to laugh and smile about in such a situation. Yet somehow, in exploring the closeness of their friendship, widows can and do.
Theatrikos Theater Company continues its series of audience favorites for its 50th anniversary with “The Cemetery Club,” by Ivan Menchell. The play will be the first production by Gina Marie Byars, a familiar face in the Theatrikos family.
“The part that really spoke to me was the connection with the people who passed away,” Byars said. “We all have someone we’ve lost. How do we deal with this? How do we honor our ancestors and the relationships that develop before and after loss? »
The cast includes Lisa Jayne as Ida, “Anita di Ploma” as Lucille, Christine Fredericks as Doris, James “Jamey” Hasapis as Sam, and Lina Wallen as Mildred.
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The play centers on the friendship between widows Ida, Lucille, and Doris, and the individual perspectives they have on the death of their husbands, and when Ida contemplates a relationship with widower Sam, her friends aren’t so keen. to let her go without a struggle.
Chris Verrill, executive director of Theatrikos, said the play is an exploration of lasting friendships and the power of love.
“‘Cemetery Club’ has the power to touch the audience,” Verrill said. “The show maintains a steady pace as the actors throw in one-liners. It’s the right kind of direction for this material and makes the audience laugh.
Byars said her main goal as a director was to take authenticity out of their performances.
“It was fun to see the actors stretch a little further than they had planned,” Byars said. “If the characters are believable…then as an audience they can relate and that’s a step up from entertainment.”
She added that it allows audience members to delve deeper into the story and come away with a new perspective on themselves as they reflect on their similarities and differences with the characters on stage.
Jayne said that Ida is a woman ready to move on with her life, but her friends, for reasons important to them, are reluctant to let her. She meets widowed Sam at the cemetery during one of the women’s visits, and Lucille and Doris are against it.
“He’s a very caring person,” Jayne said, adding that Ida wanted a relationship, to take care of another man. “She’s been so lonely since her husband died.”
What Jayne finds most remarkable about the play is the presence of characters that aren’t there – the husbands who have died. They were the ones who had the biggest impact on how the three women move through life after death, like a planet orbiting a dead star. Her approach to inhabiting the character of Ida is to connect with her own grief and sense of loss and look to the future.
“She’s not too old, in her mind, to find another love,” Jayne said. “And she must deal with the betrayal of her friends at this reconnection.”
The actor, whose stage name is Anita di Ploma, said the goal in creating the Lucille character was to go further than just being the trio’s “comic relief”. Lucille uses comedy to distract from a very unhappy relationship with her husband before he died.
“She has a very different kind of grief than the other two ladies,” di Ploma said. “It’s a heartbreak for what could have been.”
di Ploma added that Lucille is a very hurt person, and all that needed to be done as an actor was to access similar personal experiences.
“The more I work with the character, the more I understand that there are elements of Lucille in me,” di Ploma said. “The friendship the three of them have is very deep and genuine, even if there are issues.”
The fear of losing that friendship is the reason Lucille and Doris do what they do.
Wallen faces the prospect of finding the exact opposite of her true nature by filling the role of Mildred.
“The woman has no idea of her surroundings,” Wallen said, adding that Mildred is a surface, a show-off, a person who doesn’t understand the bond the three friends have to provide a stark contrast to the connection that they have.
Hasapis, upon finding Sam, accessed her own grief at losing her husband. It is a role he can take on, play and experience emotionally to overcome his own grief.
“Art helps us through life changes,” Hasapis said.
Sam finds himself hurt that Ida’s friends don’t want to see her come out of her grief and continue living her life – which shows that they aren’t as concerned about Ida as they are about themselves and their friendship , Hasapis said. When a partner dies, there is a loss of identity, and it is difficult to make the effort to face the fears of dating, of rejecting, of loving again.
“And this piece demonstrates that,” Hasapis said.
Fredericks said Doris doesn’t like change and it’s hard for her.
“In a sense, his life hasn’t changed from day to day,” Fredericks said. “She has no desire or desire to go beyond that.”
It is this concrete firmness in not accepting change that causes Doris to become the epiphany of the story and carries the heavy message that life is precious and short and that it is made for – living.
What: “The Cemetery Club” by Ivan Menchell
Where: Theatrikos Theater Company, 11 W. Cherry Ave., Downtown
When: From Oct. 7 to 23, with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Note: An opening night reception has resumed due to lack of COVID safety protocols. Masks are strongly encouraged, but not required, except for Sunday matinees, which will require masks and proof of vaccination. Dealerships are open except Sundays.
Information: For more details on “The Cemetery Club” or to purchase tickets, visit www.theatrikos.com.