Cemetery Club

Producers think “The Cemetery Club” will speak to mature audiences that have come to understand that death is part of life. Illustration courtesy Coastal Repertory Theatre

When the curtain closed on the Coastal Repertory Theatre’s production of “Noises Off” on Feb. 27, director Gail Erwin and the crew at the theater lost no time in beginning preparations for the next play in this season's lineup, “The Cemetery Club.”

“It’s just a really lovely, poignant play,” said Erwin. “(When pitching plays to the theater) I read through a lot of comedies, and this one just made me laugh.

“Death is a factor of life, and the older you get, the more you realize that,” she said. “I thought it was kind of an apt subject, especially because there are a lot of really talented older women around here who are really good actors, and our audience has a good number of older folks too. I just love this play.”

“The Cemetery Club,” by Ivan Menchell, will open on March 25 and run through April 10. Performances will be held at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Learn more at coastalrep.com.

The play is a loving and humorous story about three friends living in Queens, N.Y., in the 1990s. Ida, played by Nancy Martin, Lucille, played by Joanie Pugh-Newman, and Doris, played by Sue Carmichael, gather at Ida’s house once a month to visit their husbands’ graves at the cemetery. Longtime Coastal Repertory Theatre volunteer Ginger Cutter will also be taking the stage as Mildred.

“For Doris, going through the grief period has been very difficult,” said Carmichael. “She still misses him and she has a hard time understanding why her friends, the other two wonderful women, aren’t feeling the same way she is, and is a little resentful.”

Their outlooks on life, and responses to becoming widows vary, but the drama begins in earnest when they meet Sam, played by Rich Mattiello, who recently lost his wife. The play is an optimistic look at grief and getting on with life.

Erwin said that “The Cemetery Club” is often described as “Golden Girls” meets “Steel Magnolias.”

“It’s just a great play about friendship and support that especially older women can have for each other,” said Martin. “It’s very authentic, while at the same time having a lot of laughs.

“I think it will be relevant to a lot of the maturing adults watching it,” she said. “I love that it’s dealing with a serious subject matter, but it’s done with a lot of optimism and humor. It runs through a range of emotions. There are secrets, some anger, a little bit of betrayal, but a lot of love too.”

For producer Ronda Quain, the production also hits a personal note. Her grandparents are buried in the same Jewish cemetery in Queens where “The Cemetery Club” takes place.

“It just makes me think of real life too,” she said. “It’s making me think of

Ukraine, too, because there are some Russian Jews buried there who were born in Odessa, which is now in Ukraine. It made me think of those people who had to leave Russia or Ukraine the first time, just like the people who have to leave right now. The whole thing is just taking me to that place.”

The producer is planning to set up a headstone with the words, “How to live and love after loss,” in both Hebrew and English, where people can put a stone on top in memory of someone.

“I just hope people will come and enjoy, laugh and giggle, but also know the poignancy of grief and what people are going through,” said Carmichael. “To understand what the grief process is and that everyone handles grief differently. You just have to allow that space for everyone to grieve in their own way.”

Emma Spaeth is a staff writer for the Half Moon Bay Review covering community, arts and sports. Emma grew up in Half Moon Bay before earning a bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Oregon.

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