By Ivan Manchell
The New Jewish Theatre

Once upon a time, you had to leave your house and go to a theater to see a show like The Cemetery Club. Now you can stay home and watch it on TV -- a rerun of The Golden Girls, maybe.

I do not say this to put down TV. Most writing on TV, like the acting and everything else, is well crafted, the best that money can buy. But, like anything churned out on demand for an industry, it follows a formula. The formulas are old ones, used in theater since the Greeks. But now, when we can get the formula at home at the touch of a button, we want something a little more -- some fresh twist -- when we make the effort to go out.

The Cemetery Club concerns three widows. When their husbands were alive, the three couples had hung out together, gone on cruises and such. Now the three widows visit the cemetery together. One remains unshakably devoted to the deceased. The second flaunts her flirtations. The third seems to be getting serious about the neighborhood butcher, a recent widower. A serious romance could break up the Cemetery Club, so the other two scheme to break up the romance.

You can write the rest.
These widows happen to be Jewish and live in Queens. That's not essential to the plot, but it does lend a certain flavor to the familiar jokes that dot the script. And it probably adds to the play's appeal for some in the audience at the New Jewish Theatre, where the play is currently running.

Under Bob Koerner's direction, the cast keep the jokes and the sentimentality rolling smoothly through their well-worn ruts. Jan Meyer brings real feeling to the autumnal romance -- her giddiness when the butcher first shows interest, her pain when he doesn't call. Lynda Levy Clark gives a well-turned waspish edge to the devoted mourner. As the merriest widow, Diana Krueger stumbled a little in the first few minutes on opening night, but she eventually brought feeling as well as humor to her role. Ray Davidson plays the butcher with a lovely quiet conviction, and Amy Ruprecht-Belt has delicious fun with her brief turn as an intruder into the trio.

Ruprecht-Belt also organized the costumes, having more fun with the almost-matching bridesmaids' dresses the women wear to the most recent nuptials of a much-married friend. M.T. Schmidt's set and L.D. Lawson's lights cleverly find room, in the postage-stamp space of the Jewish Community Center's Studio Theatre, to sketch in a cemetery on the fringes of a convincingly realistic living room.

-- Bob Wilcox

By William Shakespeare
Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, which opened last weekend on the Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton Center, is about as entertaining as comedy can get, partially because its director, Bruce Longworth, has seen more possibilities for farce within the play than one might think possible. In addition, the cast is singularly well-chosen and effective, the set both practical and in itself funny, the costumes handsome and historically apt, the lighting both bold and subtle.

Longworth, well-known as both actor and director, decided -- wisely and sensibly -- not to inflict political correctness on the play and its audience. Katherina (Katherine Leask) is a shrew, not an early manifestation of a woman (hear her roar!) fighting for liberation and equality; Petruchio (John Rensenhouse) is a man determined to have both a handsome dowry and a peaceable wife, not a coldhearted, insensitive oppressor. The abounding farce can distract us from Katherina's humiliation, but Longworth does something even better: Watch the way Leask and Rensenhouse make their hearts go boom from across the room when they first lay eyes on one another. Katherina's heart isn't really in beating up on Petruchio before they marry; Petruchio obviously and honestly humiliates Katherina for her own good as well as his. Leask's unmarried Katherina is more than a physical and emotional bully; she is patently unhappy and miserable. The reformed Kate, however harsh the therapy, is, at least as Leask plays her, far better off for it. Though her long speech to her sister and another recently married woman is a little too much for any but the farthest wing of the Religious Right, Leask and Longworth have played it straight, with nary a wink or other hint at irony. Those who require it, however, can bring their own.

The Taming of the Shrew has a subplot so strong that it's almost another play. It concerns the wooing and winning of Katherina's younger sister, Bianca (Camille Troy) by a much older man, Gremio (John Tyrrell); a significantly older man, Hortensio (Anderson Matthews); and an appropriately aged young man, Lucentio (Michael Ray Escamilla). There's also a young ringer, Tranio (Hunter Bell), who is actually Lucentio's clever servant and who passes himself off as a foppish and boastful Lucentio. All four are skilled comics. Whereas Tyrrell uses a waspish effeminacy more than I care for, Jerry Vogel -- besides playing Vincentio, Lucentio's father -- does a little turn as a tailor where he uses effeminacy to greater humorous and charitable effect. Escamilla, one of the best face-makers I know of, is very funny as a young, besotted lover and will be a touchstone Lucentio when he produces his words somewhat more clearly.

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