‘The Cemetery Club’ at Vagabond Players by Amanda Gunther

Three feisty widows don’t let the fact that their husbands are all dead get in their way of carrying on in the usual fashion of a marriage. No they aren’t holding séances or anything bizarre, they’re just a trio of batty old bitties who have formed a club. A club that happens to meet at their husband’s gravesites once a month so that they can hold conversations with their dearly departed spouses. All of the hilarious antics and heartwarming confessions as well as a world of emotional discovery bound tightly in one bright comedic drama comes to the stage as Vagabond Players continue the celebration of their 97th season with The Cemetery Club. Directed by Roy Hammond, this production will keep you laughing and wiping away the tears as these three ladies tackle the day-to-day challenges of life, love, loss, and friendship.

 Ida (Joan Crooks) Sam (Denis L. Latkowski) Lucille (Carol Conley Evans) and Doris (Janise Whelan). Photo by Tom Lauer.
Ida (Joan Crooks) Sam (Denis L. Latkowski) Lucille (Carol Conley Evans) and Doris (Janise Whelan). Photo by Tom Lauer.

Costume Coordinators Ann Mainolfi and Ruth Tanner put their heads together to outfit these lovely ladies in simply spectacular numbers. Particular attention is paid to the high-society Lucille and her outlandish clothes. Between the dazzling cheetah print long-sleeved short hemmed dress to her glamorous full length mink coat, Tanner and Mainolfi make sure that Lucille’s character is the talk of the town for every scene. And the concoction they come up with for Selma’s wedding is simply to die for.

Set Designer Maurice G. Conn furnishes the interior of Ida’s house with resplendent tchotchkes, pictures and mirrors abound. The off-hue rose and red wall paint and wallpaper scheme blends into the slight eccentricities of the women of the play. The set’s crowning glory comes from the beautiful backdrop that depicts the cemetery where a few of the scenes are spent. Roy Hammond and Sherrionne Brown have painted a visual masterpiece; this blended watercolor-esque scene of a crisp autumn cemetery with bright autumnal leaves amid the drab gray tombs. The backdrop is rich and inviting, or as inviting as a cemetery can be, and is absolutely breathtaking.

Director Roy Hammond has selected wisely in his casting, giving each of these characters a unique voice through their actor. The trio, despite the squabbling and true fights that rise between such close friends have a fortified friendship that runs deep and makes their lighthearted moments that much more enjoyable. It is comical and emotional genius at its finest with these three ladies taking the lead of this performance.

Of course to spice things up throw a man into the mix. Sam (Denis L. Latkowski) is hardly the womanizing playboy that Lucille would make him out to be, and Latkowski’s none-too-subtle facial expressions when she attempts to flirt with his character are absolutely priceless. His heavy hearted sentimentality during moments of reflection fits the tone of the production and his awkward flirtations with Ida make for quite a few good chuckles.

Doris (Janise Whelan) has a subtle hint of a kvetching Jewish woman in her voice and is just as sweet as can be over her dearly departed. Whelan is the more subdued character of the three widows, spending her moments still desperately clinging to what was with her dead husband. But when the tempers flare she throws verbal punches with the best of them. Whelan guides her character into shady waters alongside Lucille, meddling their way straight to hell in a hand-basket, paving the path along the way with their good intentions.

Ida (Joan Crooks) gets the brunt of the meddling. With a sweet if sometimes uncertain disposition, Crooks’s character shows the audience the genuine problems with being a widow; when it safe to move on— is it ever ok to try and love again? She appears levelheaded in all she does even when trying to look sensational for Sam. Crooks adds a natural feel to the character, making her the potential everywoman of the widows category. But make no mistake her emotional outbursts are powerful and intense. Her ability to make the character easily flustered is quite amusing, giving the audience a few more good things to laugh at as the play progresses.

But the stealer of the show comes from the zany larger than life Lucille (Carol Conley Evans). With her continually growing collection of furs, Evans plays the high society woman with all her posh airs and witty zingers that keep the audience in stitches. Her character is best described as a shameless flirt who is just a little full of herself but in a self-improving sort of way. Evans portrays a vivacious lady with a lot of life still left in her, on the prowl for her next conquest. But wildly flirtatious and extravagantly classy is not the only side to this deep dynamic character. Evans has an impressively versatile emotional range, using humor to diffuse her internal hurt and sorrow; constructing a barrier around the deep and tragic truths of her life. An eruption of mournful emotions; sorrow grief and anguish come gushing out of Evans in one stunning moment that just leaves the audience in tears.

Together these three ladies have an inspiring relationship that survives even the toughest of times. It’s comedy and it’s drama at its best and it’s most difficult. It’s a performance you won’t want to miss; you’ll walk away feeling emotionally liberated, and knowing that life indeed does go on and it’s your job to make the most of it.

The 3 feisty widows of Vagabond Players production of 'The Cemetery Club': (Carol Conley Evans, Joan Crooks, and Janise Whelan.) Photo by Tom Lauer.
The 3 feisty widows of Vagabond Players’ production of ‘The Cemetery Club’: (Carol Conley Evans, Joan Crooks, and Janise Whelan). Photo by Tom Lauer.

Running Time: Approximately Two hours and 20 minutes, with one intermission.

The Cemetery Club plays through March 24, 2013 at Vagabond Players— 806 S. Broadway in the heart of Fells Point in Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 563-9135, or purchase them online.


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