The director of the play at Amelia Community Theatre (ACT), she indeed captured its essence. Written by Tim Firth and first staged in 2008 as an adaptation of the eponymous movie, this 14-scene half comedy, half drama unfurls a real-life story that is both serious and droll.
A pastiche of the big and small, the fleeing and lasting events that bead life, Calendar Girls revolves around six middle-aged women of the Yorkshire county’s Women’s Institute (WI) who together tread marriage, femininity and sisterhood. These same women, once entangled in the predictability of their customary WI activities of baking, knitting and sitting through dull speeches (including one on the history of broccoli), rise to international prominence with a single bold action against fate’s disturbances.
When Annie Clarke’s husband John dies of leukemia, the friends set upon raising funds for the local hospital that treated him. Their means – a cheeky calendar they tastefully pose for nude. Anxious and demure to go bare skin at first, the ladies soon adopt as their mantra John’s poem that “[t]he flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire. Every stage of their growth has its own beauty. But the last phase is always the most glorious.” An amusing, alcohol-prompted shoot follows. Their journey to a newfound confidence, deeper understanding of themselves and a stronger amity begins.
In front of a full house at ACT in early February, the gravity and levity of Calendar Girls unfolded under the talent and energy of a 14-strong cast of professional and lay thespians. One of the veterans, Fran Hindsley painted a nuanced portrayal of the women’s unofficial leader Chris, who also happens to teach tai chi and deal with her affectionate but pint-loving husband (Elmer Smith). Taking over the execution of the “alternative” calendar, Chris leans on her close friendship with Annie, whose grief and resolve after John’s (Don Harley) death pour out of Gillian Johnson.
While the bond between Annie and Chris frays and weaves back in as the calendar quickly sells out (and draws a botched ad for a detergent), the transformative streak of the play blossoms in the other “girls,” as well. Bruised by a cheating spouse, longtime ACT volunteer Jan Cote-Merow’s Ruth slowly sheds her restraint and selflessness for uplifting self-esteem. Defector of the Royal Yorkshire Golf Club, which she had only joined to spend time with her husband, Celia, whose easy cheer Alexandra Carroll channels, discovers her men-lulling forms. Peppy Cora, whose musicality comes forth with Sherry Rosen’s honeyed voice, ceases to scrutinize her motherhood and reconnects with her old flame and father of her daughter.
Amid all the personal shifts that the calendar spurs, unchanged seems to emerge Jessie, whose spunk has survived revered age. Her gutsy mien, as delivered by Billy Powell, makes her the first one to agree to strip down in front of the camera and maintain a high spirit throughout.
Yet, one question, which McClane often faces, lingers: “Do they really get nude?” And as McClane would respond – you have to check that for yourself. But prepare for some British drawl, surprise, humor and poignancy.
Part of ACT’s 36th season, Calendar Girls runs February 2 – 18.
Annie – Gillian Johnson
John – Don Harley
Chris – Fran Hindsley
Rod – Elmer Smith
Marie – Edie Blankenberg
Brenda – Jayne Jeney
Celia – Alexandra Carroll
Cora – Sherry Rosen
Ruth – Jan Cote Merow
Lady Cravenshire – Jennifer Webber
Jessie – Billy Powell
Lawrence – Joe Parker
Liam – Sebastian Alexander
Elaine – Sarah Sandall