Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« Nunsense | Main | The Divine Sister »

The Cemetery Club

There’s no denying the benefits of a thorough warmup. The opening scenes of The Cemetery Club make for a goofy, dramatically languid romp, in which playwright Ivan Menchell gives his characters ample time to stretch as comic plots develop. In the Tipping Point Theatre’s final production of the season, director Beth Torrey guides the fluffy early humor with fond patience, gamely preparing a well-conditioned cast to open up into a triumphant emotional sprint. It’s a feat worth waiting for.

Three women face a sea change in their longtime friendship: once occupied with couples’ activities, each of the trio is since widowed, and their primary group pursuit now is a standing monthly appointment to visit the cemetery. Designer Gwen Lindsay, tasked with making a cozy living room and a green expanse of burial ground coexist in the same set, bisects the realms with a simple raised platform. Most of the details are found near ground level, which permits lighting designer Joel Klain to cleanly divide and define the spheres with top-down specificity, keeping the unused parts of the stage well out of mind. Quintessa Gallinat interweaves instantly recognizable classic tunes with gently inoffensive musings on love, a soundtrack that reflects the safety established in the characters’ harmless early tiffs.

Much of the first act is caught up in old-biddies humor and slapstick physical comedy, none of which offers much opportunity to deepen the core group. The cheap shots can be frustrating, if only because Torrey and company have invested such energy in creating divergent characters that are nevertheless attuned to one another. At one extreme is merry widow Lucille (Sandra Birch), a Roman candle of a flirt with an itch to live every moment to the fullest. At the other end of the grief spectrum, loyal Doris (Connie Cowper) has one foot in the grave, fully resolved that her life stopped when her husband’s did. Between these two, both ideologically and (sometimes) literally, is practical Ida (Julia Glander), who feels ready to enter a new phase of her life, whatever that entails. The opening scenes simultaneously establish and corrupt the ladies’ monthly tradition, whose future is already tenuous even before they encounter fellow widower Sam (Thomas D. Mahard) — not only the local butcher and a consummate gentleman, but very much alive. A spark of coy interest fuels a subtext-rich scene between Mahard and Glander that roundly satisfies in its tender charm. Ida is smitten, as is the viewer, but her compatriots do not approve; however amusing, their scheming interference in the budding romantic subplot cannot mask its pure contrivance.

But whatever tedium marks this slow-building journey, it’s well worth the payoff of the destination: a pair of wonderful long second-act scenes that strike at the heart of the friendships, good and bad. Glander, Cowper, and Birch realize their full potential as a knockout trio in a scene of girls’-night revelry, showing easy, amiable chemistry that was missing from their fractious earlier interactions. Brenda Lane maximizes nervous body language in a walk-on role as a dramatic obstacle, summarily thrown into a conflict and believably asserting herself in response. As expected, the manufactured betrayal toxically surfaces, marring a celebratory evening and providing a wealth of opportunity for the core performers to feel their dramatic oats. The divisiveness of the women’s outlooks takes center stage, as Lucille in particular holds forth in a series of devastating moments. It’s a smashing tearjerker performance on Birch’s part, but getting there is a team effort, and Cowper and Glander are equally responsible for the emotional heft of these climactic scenes. The effect is so complete as to make an indulgent coda feel superfluous, but far be it for this reviewer to complain about so much of such a good thing.

The two hours of The Cemetery Club are not universally superior; rather, the show is oddly lopsided in its cumbersome build to a spectacular zenith. Here, the victories are on the part of Torrey and cast: whereas the individual characters and often-clunky plot operate as well as can be hoped for, the relationships springing from these capable actors are acutely splendid. A production this cumulatively strong is easily forgiven for the early moderation that eases into and enables such powerhouse results as these.

The Cemetery Club is no longer playing.
For the latest from Tipping Point Theatre, click here.