This show is outstanding! At its heart, Calendar Girls is about the ability of women “of a certain age” to continue to flex and grow for all of the right reasons. The sensitivity of Co-Directors Chrish Kresge and Eddie Schwartz keeps the production from being a one-scene laugh fest (because that scene is very, very funny).Based on the Miramax motion picture by Juliette Cowhide and Tim Firth, Calendar Girls tells the story of women who risk it all to raise the money for a new settee, without protruding springs, in the waiting room of a hospital in which one of the group member’s husband dies.
The action is centered primarily at the meeting place of the Women’s Institute (WI), a women’s club in Knapely, Yorkshire, Britain. Set Designers Albert Coia and Mike Lewis, provide the perfect backdrop for the overall setting through projections on the back wall. The props on stage consist of what may be seen at any rural town hall. It is the way they are used that makes them special.
The casting could not be more perfect as youngsters were virtually nonexistent and none of the actors or actresses needed to be aged using makeup. Each had their own, very distinctive personalities, and went through measurable change during the course of the play.
Patricia Kratzer (Marie) is a sour old puss as she tries to control the Knapley WI and promote the domestic arts including knitting, flower arranging and making plum jam. One senses real frustration in her lack of success in controlling the members.
Carol Strachan (Brenda Hulse) is the bane of the group’s existence, coming each year to give an informational lecture. After last year’s hour-long lecture on the history of tea towels, members sabotage the current year’s lecture on Broccoli. Jennifer Crier Johnston (Lady Cravenshire) gives a not-so-sly impersonation of the current Queen.
It is hard to pick the sauciest personality. Two of my favorites are Clare Palace (Cora) and Sue Edwards (Celia). Palace was bawdy, and at the same time, concerned how her actions would be seen by her daughter and the vicar of the church at which she played the piano. Edwards initially acts like a demure woman with money, evidenced through her expensive clothes. She transforms into a woman of courage, proud to show her both her physical and mental liberation.
Andrea Hatfield O’Leary (Chris) is consumed by her former glory as a minor personality in entertainment and is the schemer of the group. Her poise on stage certainly made the story sing. By the end, she realizes the uselessness of this approach to life and looks to her friends and the special moments they share. She is joined on stage by her husband (both in life and theater), Buck O’Leary (Rod), a man who loves his pint, or two, or three.
Samantha David (Ruth) turns from a woman who chooses not to believe that her husband is not cheating on her to a strong woman who no longer will tolerate this behavior. Her fiery personally perfectly matches her natural red hair.
Margaret Lane (Jessie) serves both as the calm backbone of the group and each member’s greatest supporter. Though not expressed in a jovial manner, her life’s motto must be ‘one for all and all for one.’
Daria Antonucci (Annie) and her ailing husband, Peter Harrold (John) are the driving force behind the story line. Annie is as sweet as could be, treating her husband with loving kindness before and steadfast loyalty after his passing. John shared with the women his love of sunflowers and a stoic manner while dying of cancer.
Many of the women had spent time visiting John in the hospital and were annoyed by the existing settee which was not only uncomfortable but had bottom-piercing springs. After his death, the WI decided that they would memorialize him by providing a new settee to the waiting area. As with everything, they faced a problem of money. Knowing that the funds from their often boring yearly WI calendar would not be of much help, they devised quite an unusual strategy.
Chris devises a sure-fire plan: a calendar of nudes. Not any old nudes, but pictures of the members of the WI. The reaction isn’t great. Then she suggested a proper was way to accomplish the ‘shoot,’ and the friends agree. Young photographer Lawrence (Lansing O’Leary) is hired to set up the shots and leave the actual photography to the women.
The result is hysterical (I won’t give it away!) Of course, the calendar is a huge hit with hundreds of requests for a copy of the next printing and lots of media requests. And more lunacy and laughs abound!
This is where the last two characters Teri Allred (Elaine, the hairdresser) and Malcolm Edwards (Liam) were perfect in their roles. Allred, with her height emphasized by bright pink very high heels, is the makeup and hair expert for a TV appearance, and is absolutely obnoxious in her approach to the women.
The British Players’ Calendar Girls has a dream-cast that you must come see! The show is full of heart, tears, and laughter, and love (some of the cast are cancer survivors). Tickets are hard to come by, so order them right now after reading this review. Don’t miss this heartwarming and heartfelt experience!
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
Calendar Girls plays through March 19, 2016, at The British Players performing at the Kensington Town Hall – 3710 Mitchell Street, in Kensington, MD. For tickets, call (240) 447-9863, or purchase them online.