Women working together for a cause are unstoppable. This theme is playing out in the local and national news, and more lightly in Camelot Theatre’s current production of “Calendar Girls.”
“Calendar Girls” is the heartwarming and funny story of a close-knit group of older British women who decide to appear nude in a calendar to raise money for their local hospital.
The story, based on true events, was made into a popular 2003 film starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, and later into a play written by Tim Firth. Gwen Overland directs Camelot’s talented cast, who turn a relatively thin story into two hours of cheeky fun.
In the play, Annie’s husband, John, played with poignant cheer by Roy Von Rains Jr., is dying of leukemia. Annie (Cynthia Rogan) is warm and caring, and the couple gets a lot of emotional support from their friends in Annie’s women’s club. The most supportive, and liveliest, is Annie’s best friend, Chris, played with energy and charm by Presila Quinby.
When John dies, the enterprising Chris hits upon the idea to raise enough funds to buy a nice settee for the hospital’s visitors room. The problem is the club’s traditional fundraising calendar, usually full of boring scenery, is hardly a top seller. Chris convinces her friends that the ladies should do something more eye-catching. Risking the ire of the stodgy Women’s Institute leadership, she enlists the help of a young amateur photographer to arrange a nude photo shoot. The shoot and the calendar’s unexpected success changes each woman in some way, some less subtly than others, and tests Chris and Annie’s friendship.
Others characters include Kathy Wing as Cora, the church organist who is estranged from her grown daughter; the overly accommodating Ruth, played with charming goofiness by Judith Rosen; Jessie, played with no-nonsense snap by Karen Douglas, a retired schoolteacher who resents the way older women are often seen as boring, nonsexual beings; and Celia, played by Lyda Woods, a boozy, upper-class woman whose husband spends way too much time on the golf course.
Meagan Kirby, Kira Herdklotz-Yasutake, Nicholas Jules Hewitt and David Eisenberg round out the cast. Don Zastoupil’s set, along with Jenelle Ragsdale’s lighting effects and Brian O’Connor’s sound and video, are simple yet effective.
There are plenty of amusing scenes in the play, but the giddy photo shoot is the highlight. It is a moment of bravery, both for the actresses and their characters, as they really do strip down for the camera. To keep things family-friendly, strategically placed, traditional ladies’ club items such as baked goods, balls of yarn, and flowers help maintain a PG-rating and add to the comedy. One-by-one, each actress beams as she shucks her clothes, and the delighted Camelot audience cheers them on.
The show has a few slow spots, and some dialogue is muffled by strained attempts at British accents, but Overland’s direction keeps the story moving along well enough. The real joy of Camelot’s production is the strong chemistry between the performers, particularly Rogan and Quinby. The obvious good time the actors are all having is infectious. Although the play uses nudity to score laughs, it is really about friendship and how each woman blossoms after their bold project, proving that women are gorgeous and powerful at every stage of life.
"Calendar Girls" runs through Sunday, Feb. 26, at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Tickets are $27 or $34. Rush tickets are $18 and, if available, can be purchased one hour before curtain. Tickets can be purchased online at camelottheatre.org or by calling 541-535-5250. The box office is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and one hour before performances.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.