It’s all fun, games, and broccoli lectures when the curtain rises on Tim Firth’s Calendar Girls put on this season by the McLean Community Players. For the women of the village of Knapeley in Yorkshire, England, the highlights of life—dull as they are—revolve around plum jam, flower contests, and choral arrangements of “Jerusalem.” That is until the husband of one of their Women’s Institute (WI) members passes away from leukemia and in his honor, they set out to raise money for the local hospital through the sale of an unconventionally themed WI calendar.
Through the calendar’s planning, execution, and aftermath, the close friendship of the two main characters, Chris and Annie, is tested by their grief and reaction to success. Chris, played by Diane Sams, who is also the show’s producer, was a fiery cross between Bette Midler and Donna Noble (from Doctor Who). She easily filled the stage with both her projection and energy. Playing opposite was Chris’ best friend, Annie, portrayed by Sam (Samantha) David. Her quiet accent lilted through every line be it one of joy or heartbreak.
Another notable performance was given by Jennifer Greene in her interpretation of the meek and conflicted Ruth. Greene easily handled the complicated layers of Ruth’s character, exploring the hesitance of a woman who doesn’t know how to get her life back on track or if she wants it back at all. Over the course of the play, Greene subtly moved her interpretation of Ruth to take back her life, her confidence, and her self-image.
The rest of the cast: Anne Hilleary, Shayne Gardner, Frank Gorrell, Kathryn Johnston, Elizabeth Leader, Jennifer Levy, Nick Matich, Carole Preston, and Michael Schwartz bounced moments of levity around easily like the long-time, small-village friends that they portrayed. It was clear that this show about friendship, love, and loss was also a reflection of those elements in the community from which the actors were pulled. Though the story focused briefly on the back-stories of the supporting characters, the cast carried their moments through with conviction.
I was particularly surprised and impressed by the attention to detail to the specifically Yorkshire accent the characters used in the production. Normally when a play calls for an English accent, I more than expect the cast to use a generic, London accent but for this production it was quite true to the setting and employed endearingly. With John Barclay Burns as accent coach, the cast very clearly spent a good deal of effort working out the tricky Yorkshire speech patterns. Kathryn Johnston who played Jessi was a stand out with her delightfully charming turns of phrase.
It was easily apparent that the Director, Bob Sams, and Props Master, Claire Tse, had quite the challenge on their hands with the Calendar Photo Shoot that humorously closed Act 1. By far the most entertaining scene in the play, the Director showed his flair for fun in his rapid fire blocking choices as he orchestrated the photographic and scandalously chaotic moment in the script. Helping to round out the enjoyable environment on stage were: Bill Glikbarg with some classic choices as Set Designer, Farrell Hartigan on Costume Design (or lack there of in this particular scene), and Lynne Glikbarg with Lighting. Jerry Bonnes as Sound Designer also added a unique soundtrack to the set changes that helped keep in the merry mood.”
This quirky production was a good fit for the community centered theater company. It played easily to the strengths of the actors, both in comedic timing and in comradery. I found it also mirrored the off-stage community cohesion among the volunteers and crew of the McLean Community Players, who, like those Knapeley ladies in the show, rallied together is support of one of their own.
A feel-good, chuckle of a play, McLean Community Players’ Calendar Girls is just right for the last days of summer.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Calendar Girls plays through October 3, 2015 at The McLean Community Players performing at the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theatre – 1234 Ingleside Avenue, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.
Meet the Cast of McLean Community Players’ ‘Calendar Girl’: Part 1: Diane Sams.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ at McLean Community Players, Part 2: Kathryn (Katie) Johnston.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ at McLean Community Players, Part 3: Liz Weber.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ at McLean Community Players, Part 4: Jennifer Levy.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ at McLean Community Players, Part 5: Jennifer Greene.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ at McLean Community Players, Part 6: Anne Megan Hilleary.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ at McLean Community Players, Part 7: Frank Gorrell.
Meet the Cast of McLean Community Players’ ‘Calendar Girl’: Part 8: Sam David.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ at McLean Community Players, Part 9: Carole Preston.
Meet the Director and Cast of ‘Calendar Girls’ at McLean Community Players, Part 10: Shayne Gardner.
McLean Community Players Presents Tim Firth’s ‘Calendar Girls’ September 18 – October 3, 2015.