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Civic’s studio theater stages ‘The Cemetery Club’

THURSDAY, OCT. 21, 2010

 From left, Mary Starkey, Melody Deatherage, Susan Hardie and Thomas Heppler star in the Firth Chew Studio Theatre’s production of “The Cemetery Club.” The show opens Friday and runs through Nov. 14.  (Jesse Tinsley)
From left, Mary Starkey, Melody Deatherage, Susan Hardie and Thomas Heppler star in the Firth Chew Studio Theatre’s production of “The Cemetery Club.” The show opens Friday and runs through Nov. 14. (Jesse Tinsley)

A play centered around three widows from Queens

Doris, Ida and Lucille are widows from Queens who meet every month at their husbands’ gravesites.

They talk about life, love and loss – but not exactly with little-old-lady gentility.

The tone is more Betty White: feisty, funny and sometimes a little tart.

That Queens cemetery will be re-created in the Spokane Civic Theatre’s downstairs Firth Chew Studio Theatre beginning this weekend in “The Cemetery Club.”

The three widows will be played by veteran Spokane actresses: Melody Deatherage, Susan Hardie and Mary Starkey.

The cast is rounded out by Thomas Heppler, who plays a new man who arrives to shake up their lives, and Vera Ora Winslow as Mildred. Heather McHenry-Kroetch directs.

This Ivan Menchell comedy-drama was originally produced by the Yale Repertory Theatre and went on to a short run on Broadway in 1990.

It didn’t exactly receive a rousing reception from New York Times critic Frank Rich, who deemed it “tedious” and “sanctimonious.” But others called it “gentle” and “appealingly bittersweet.”

In 1993, Menchell adapted the story into a movie, which starred Ellen Burstyn, Olympia Dukakis, Diane Ladd and Lainie Kazan. Film critic Roger Ebert was a big fan.

“Here is a film open to a whole range of possibilities for older characters, and as Burstyn, Dukakis and Ladd plot their strategies and exchange their hopes and fears, it’s refreshing to know they realize that love is much more complicated than most young lovers ever dream,” wrote Ebert.

The play has since been a popular choice for community theaters and regional theaters. It is often compared to “Steel Magnolias” both for its emotional appeal and for the fact that it’s a good vehicle for actresses.

Menchell has gone on to do a lot of TV work, including as a producer and writer for “The Nanny,” “Time of Your Life” and “Jonas.”

He also wrote portions of the stage version of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and a new musical version of “Bonnie & Clyde,” which premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego last year and which may turn up on Broadway in the future.



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