Ian Dickens Productions International Ltd at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
This comedy drama, first seen some twenty years since on Broadway, tells the tale of three Jewish widows, who meet each month, chat over tea, then head for the cemetery to commune with their late hubbies.
It's a piece still popular with amateur groups, or, as here, as a Golden Girls-style vehicle for doyennes of the stage.
Audiences drawn by the names on the playbill will not be disappointed: there are some skilled, sentimental characterizations on offer here.
Anita Harris is Ida, a no-nonsense widow who wouldn't say no to a new man in her life, and, sure enough, becomes a blushing teenager when Sam [Peter Ellis] comes on the scene [at the cemetery, of course]. Her confusion and her disappointment, when her affections seem to be spurned, are palpable; her scenes with the "butcher who delivers", tender and truthful, are some of the best moments in the show.
Elsewhere, we might expect, given the time already spent on the road, a slicker, crisper delivery. The conversation where ages are never mentioned is nicely done, though, and I enjoyed the drunken wine, cake and cha cha cha, followed by the inevitable morning after. Both of these come in the second half, where most of the soul-baring goes on, including a moving few minutes when these three widows wistfully recall their first meeting with their man, a sad showdown where home truths are shared, and the not entirely unexpected dénouement before one final visit to the cemetery.
Shirley-Anne Field is Lucille, the man-hunter – very elegant as she acquires mink after mink. Anne Charleston, as Doris, the career widow whose Abe has been gone just four years, gets closest to the cutting Jewish repartee which pervades Menchell's so-so script. And Debbie Norman makes the most of the few minutes she has as Sam's new fancy-woman, wonderfully garrulous with the most irritating of laughs.
Designer Alan Miller-Bunford has given Ida a bijou flat, compact enough to fit the smallest stage, dressed with the kind of furniture she might have bought when she married. The problem is that we need to go with the girls on their monthly pilgrimage to visit their late husbands, and this involves trucking a very cramped cemetery in front of the set, while we stare at the tabs and listen to the Rat Pack.
We want to share the joy and pain of these three ladies, but it would take a classier production, and swifter scene changes, to give them the attention they deserve.this piece first appeared on The Public Reviews