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Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2008

Cemetery Stories

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Kopper Bear’s production of Three Viewings, a comedy set around a funeral home, closes Feb. 17 at Sunset Playhouse. Less than a week later, Sunset Artistic Director Mark Salentine directs Ivan Menchell’s comedy The Cemetery Club. It’s the lighthearted story of three aging Jewish widows who meet each month to visit the graves of their late husbands. Doris (Frances Klumb) clings to the memory of her late husband, Lucille (Susan Loveridge) dates as many men as she can and Ida (Sally Marks) tries to find a balance between the two extremes. Previous productions of this episodic comedy have been compared to the style of a sitcom.

Light comedy about three women over the age of 50 is quite at home at the Sunset in Elm Grove, where audiences tend to be older than they are in the Downtown theater district. While the play clearly addresses its target audience, Salentine maintains that Menchell’s comedy appeals to enough universal feelings to draw a larger audience. He describes it as being about “experiencing love and loss and life itself in various ways, with various interpretations and ways of getting through it all.”

Perhaps the biggest indicator of the play’s crossover appeal is the fact that Salentine is happy to be directing the play. “It’s no secret that I don’t love every play we do here, but I do love this one,” he says. “While the play…has a certain dated feel…its charm is ageless and I happen to love the characters and their humor.”

Salentine, who has had difficulty satisfying both himself and his audiences in the past, once per season stages a play that appeals more to himself than to his core audience. Last season, his production of David Ives’ program of experimental shorts, All In The Timing, garnered quite a few angry phone calls from subscribers who appreciate their comedy a little less offbeat.

But Menchell uses the framework of a simple plot to build sophisticated themes, which would appear to be a shrewd compromise between artist and audience. The Cemetery Club opens Feb. 22 and runs through March 15. Also opening on Feb. 22 is Spiral Theatre’s sixth show. Mark Hooker directs a production of Leonard Gershe’s 1969 romantic comedy, Butterflies are Free. Set in an apartment in New York’s East Village, Butterflies tells the tale of a young, blind, aspiring musician (Ryan Dance) on the day he meets his 19-year-old divorced neighbor who is an aspiring actress (Ruth Arnell). Hooker, a talented actor himself, also directed Spiral’s last show, True West. His impressive skill in working with a small ensemble in an intimate space will not be wasted in Butterflies—a domestic struggle of a completely different kind than True West. Butterflies Are Free closes March 9.
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