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'The Cemetery Club' handles the topic of grief with care

Julie Hofer, who portrays Ida, speaks with Julie Hart-Schutte, who plays Doris, in the upcoming production of "The Cemetery Club." The play follows the lives of three widows. (Sara Bertsch / Republic)1 / 2
Julie Brookbank2 / 2

Death comes to all, and it also comes with rituals. Every society since history began has engaged in some kind of send-off for the dearly departed. Modern humans most often bury the dead in plots of land dedicated to that purpose: cemeteries. And those who inter a loved one often have their own burial rituals. Area Community Theatre's production of "The Cemetery Club" by Ivan Menchell is the story of three women who have lost their husbands and are finding a way to write their next chapter.

The play is set in 1990 in Queens, New York. The three women in the "club" visit the Forest Hills cemetery once a month to pay their respects to their late husbands. Brassy Lucille is the newest of the widows and wants to start playing the field. Grounded, lonely Ida is ready to open her heart again, but is discouraged by disapproving Doris. When widower Sam enters the picture, it's questionable whether the club will survive. A couple of unexpected revelations at the play's conclusion enhance empathy with each character.

Director Terri Jacklin has pulled together a top-notch veteran cast. Julie Hofer plays Ida, the hostess of the club, friendly and hospitable. Cat Erickson's Lucille is fun-loving and enthusiastic to try most anything new. Julie Hart Schutte is memorable as the dour Doris who will never give up on her marriage to Abe, even after death has parted them. All three of these actresses have played similar, interesting roles in previous productions. Their chemistry is perfect and the camaraderie enjoyed by this cast is evident in every scene. Interloper Mildred (Laurie Ruby) appears late in the action to bring an element of surprise to the ladies as they prepare to attend the wedding of a friend. Of note is Al Jacklin's Sam, an eligible neighborhood butcher. This is one of Jacklin's finest ACT performances with just the right amount of quiet reserve and borderline bashfulness as he musters the courage to ask Ida out on a date.

The set is one of my favorites of recent years. Constructed by a crew of six volunteers, Ida's living room interior looks well finished, tasteful and polished. Stage left depicts the cemetery where several moving scenes are played out. Devin Carey's lighting makes for smooth transitions between locales. The costumes and makeup are well done, particularly the hairstyles. Each character is defined by her clothing choices, adding to the show's authenticity. There were some problems with the microphones the night I attended. (ACT is currently fundraising for new mics, a definite need.)

If you are very lucky, you have never experienced the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one. However, as people age, they will be more likely to have lost a friend or a family member. Grief is not something that can be prescribed. Each person must find their own way to accept a loss. There is no magic cure. "The Cemetery Club" handles this subject with gentle humor, realism and grace. All in all, it's a "Cemetery" well worth a visit.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theatre or more information is available at 996-9137 or