The Cemetery Club is a decent night out, and that’s about all that can be said. It’s an okay play at a reasonable price. There are serious pacing problems throughout and some costuming choices I found distracting, but the heart of the second act is good enough to justify the ticket price.
The first act was almost entirely exposition and can be surmised from the program alone. I’ll save you the trouble. Three old Jewish widows visit their husbands’ graves together once a month. They meet a widower one day and our main character begins to fall in love with him. Her friends get upset and work on breaking them up.
I was genuinely worried heading into the second act and already composing my disappointed review during intermission. But fortunately, the play is saved in Act II Scene II when all three ladies get drunk as lords. Suddenly, emotions are heightened, secrets are revealed and the jokes land perfectly.
“And you thought you were going to rest in peace!” – Sam, The Cemetery Club
I really wanted to love this show and, by extension, this theater company. The Tabard Theater reminds me of some of my favorite small theaters in Chicago. The stage is set on a diagonal with audience members seated on rising steps on two sides of the stage. The front row has cabaret-style tables to enjoy the drinks and snacks sold at the old-fashioned wooden bar by the door. With a nice glass of wine and a shockingly affordable mini cheesecake, I was ready to enjoy the show.
Unfortunately it was the timing that really made the show difficult to enjoy. The pacing of joke delivery, staging and especially scene changes were consistently off. There was one scene change in particular that had the audience sitting in the dark for over a minute. Now, I understand the challenging logistics of getting actors to the other side of the stage in the dark, but it also seems like the kind of problem that can be solved with a glowstick, or by changing where the actors enter. Especially with no set changes, and no music in the darkness, the wait time between scenes was inexcusable.
Furthermore, the direction in many scenes felt awkward. Poignant lines throughout the show felt rushed and there were several times when characters poured themselves tea and ended up blocking the audience’s view of other actors who were speaking. The costume and wig choices also were distracting. The main wig and outfits worn by the only plus-sized actress particularly did not seem to fit with the rest of the show. Again, it’s not a huge problem, but it’s noticeable enough that the whole production seems off.
The heart of Ivan Menchell's play, The Cemetery Club, is good. The show successfully tackles themes of facing the reality of growing old and finding love after the death of a spouse. Unfortunately, there are flaws that detract from the experience.
The Tabard Theatre’s The Cemetery Club is playing weekends February 17 to March 12 at Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 North San Pedro Street, San Jose, CA 95110. Tickets are $15 – $40.
Photos courtesy of The Tabard Theatre.