Choice roles for women "of a certain age" being in short supply, The Cemetery Club offers tempting meat and potatoes to MerryRam Productions, in association with Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Co.
Ivan Menchell's 1990 comedy-drama is better known in its 1993 film incarnation, transplanted to and shot in Pittsburgh, with Ellen Burstyn starring in an elevated central role.
The original play, set in metro New York, is firmly about a trio of fairly recent widows, each dealing with her own grief, friendship, loneliness and future. The action, directed here by Marcus Muzopappa, opens on the fourth anniversary of the widowhood of Doris, the longest-serving and still most devout mourner. She and best buddies Ida and Lucille (in order of husbands' demises) make monthly visits to their late spouses' graves, thus giving rise to the informal sobriquet "cemetery club" to define their relationship.
Alas, the male playwright does not provide much history as to how these women ever became the tight-knit group the script describes. Instead, we get a strained relationship among distinctive characters. Having the most fun with scenery-chewing is undoubtedly Claire Fraley, as the scarily outrageous and tragically scared Lucille. Fraley may flub a line or her Queens accent, but her voguing is dead on, and her fear palpable. Lynne Franks brings passion and humor to the bereaved Doris. Arlene Merryman plumbs Cemetery's most dynamic character, her sorrow ready to be exchanged for a new lease on, and lust for, life. Opposite Merryman is Rich Ivaun, as a somewhat stoic widower, and Karen Hanes as a passing rival. A tip of the hat to PPT's design and tech people, especially set designer Diane Melchitzky and co-constructer Barney McKenna. Wonderful weeds, guys.
Though billed as "present day," Cemetery Club is unabashedly a period piece, dating to a time when people played vinyl records, depended upon directory assistance and ignored the now-obvious symptoms of a heart attack. The characters are certainly not today's sexagenarians, and perhaps they weren't much more credible in period. But it's an amusing, and occasionally thoughtful, outing.