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Playwright Ivan Menchell tugs beautifully at heartstrings with his bittersweet comedy, "The Cemetery Club," now playing at Conklin's Barn II Dinner Theatre.

Not your typical Barn fare, it shines a well-deserved spotlight on the ladies and a finer gathering would be difficult to find.

This charming tale follows the lives of three widows who meet once a month to visit the final resting places of their late husbands.

Lucille, played by Mary Simon, has embraced this second phase of her life, and chooses to stay "among the living," while Doris, played by Sara Flanders, is perfectly content to honor her husband's memory, diligently weeding the cemetery grounds and polishing her husband's headstone.

Ida, played by Lana Warner, is somewhere in the middle - curious about life, but a little overwhelmed at the thought of moving on.

When a handsome widower crosses their paths, Ida has an unexpected reaction - she feels drawn to this man, and the attraction is mutual. This turn of events does not amuse her pals, especially Doris, who is not ready for things to change for the trio.

When a mutual friend asks the girls to be attendants at her latest wedding, widower Sam, played by Bob Lane Jr., offers to provide transportation. 

In fact, he has been keeping company with Ida, and the two have been enjoying getting acquainted. But when her well-meaning friends have a "friendly chat" with Sam, Ida ends up with a chauffeur, not an escort.

The ladies, after a few glasses of wine at the reception, put their cards on the table, and come to a new understanding and appreciation of one another, just in the nick of time. Unbeknownst to the three, their time together is about to run out.

Lana Ward gives a delightful performance as Ida, the nurturing voice of reason. She strikes such a believable chord, you feel as though you're old friends.  

Flanders, as Doris the devoted, is pitch-perfect; her anguish and fear are palpable and her spats with Lucille hilarious, with seamless transitions between the two.

And Simon's Lucille makes you laugh uncontrollably and cry without warning in a performance that I do believe just may be my personal favorite. Lane Jr.'s Sam is pure charm in an understated performance that is very endearing. 

Patricia S. Stiller is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph.

The Cemetery Club

Venue: Conklin's Barn II Dinner Theatre, Goodfield

Times and dates: Thu.-Sat. dinner shows, Sun. brunch matinees, through June 12

Cost: $32-$36

Box office: 309-965-2545

Running time: 2 hr., including 20-min. intermission


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