So what if the characters of The Cemetery Club — three widows, a widower, and a slightly younger mantrap — are all unmistakably Jewish New Yorkers of a certain age? The current Southern-fried community-theater production of Ivan Menchell's romantic comedy — performed by the Towne Players of Garner under the direction of Beth Honeycutt — lacks the sometimes-grating accents of the Big Apple. But it is still charming, thanks to effervescent portrayals of the three widowed Golden Girls by Janis K. Coville, Beverly Jeanfavre, and Frances Stanley; a poignant portrait of a lonely widowed Golden Guy by Don Howard; and the spicy cameo by Sandra Shelton as a "younger" woman with her cap set for Sam.
The Cemetery Club, a trio of widows that meets once a month to visit their husbands' graves at Forest Hills cemetery in Queens, New York, is about to break up, because Lucille has started dating again, with great gusto, and Ida is finished grieving and ready to write a new chapter in her life. Only Doris stubbornly clings to the monthly ritual of the three lifelong friends like it is the only life preserver on a stormy sea.
Janis K. Coville (Lucille) is good as a man-crazy Golden Girl dressed in low-cut gowns and draped in second-hand furs, Beverly Jeanfavre (Doris) is better the deeply devoted wife who simply cannot get over the loss of her husband, and Frances Stanley (Ida) is best as a widow who wants to doff her widow's weeds and get on with the rest of her life. Don Howard (Sam) is delightful as a bashful widower who thinks that he just might want to declare himself eligible for the Dating Game once again, and Sandra Shelton (Mildred) adds a brief but memorable cameo as Ida's chief competitor for Sam's attentions — a woman who takes the motto "All's fair in love and war" as a code to live by.
Director Beth Honeycutt gets sharply etched comic characterizations from each member of her ensemble; and she and her husband, technical director Scott Honeycutt, have done an exceptionally fine job of transforming the tiny stage of The Garner Historic Auditorium into a warm and fuzzy facsimile of Ida's living room. (Three "headstones," placed in front of the curtain, suggest the cemetery.)
The women's must-be-seen-to-be-believed glad rags, their hideous fuchsia bridesmaid's dresses, their worn bathrobes, and an absolutely awful blonde wig — all selected by the Honeycutts — enhance the show's visual appeal and help make The Cemetery Club an outstanding evening of community theater.
The Towne Players of Garner present The Cemetery Club Friday-Saturday, Jan. 23-24, at 8 p.m., in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 West Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 students and seniors). 919/779-6144. Towne Players: http://www.towneplayers.org/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=4327.