I review most of the plays I see, and I write this one with the disclaimer that my significant other, Ramona Young, is in the cast.
“Calendar Girls” is based on the true story (and a subsequent film of the same name) of a group of women who belong to the Women’s Institute in Knapely, Yorkshire, in the north of England. When Annie’s (Roxane Gray) husband gets leukemia, her best friend Chris (Young) pushes the group to make a calendar. Not the usual boring “Bridges of Wharfedale” scenic calendar, but as Chris says, “Flesh sells.” And boy, does it.
The ‘women of a certain age” are clearly defined in Tim Firth’s clever script, and each actress is given a chance to fully flesh out their character. Jessie (Alicia Trahan) is the retired schoolteacher who refuses to be defined by age. Cora (Heather Rushing), a vicar’s daughter and church organist, is rebelling against the strictures of her upbringing. Celia (Bryanne Tyler) is an upper-class golf widow who is constrained by cultural protocol.
Karen Chapman’s Ruth is delightfully ditzy and provides several hilarious visual moments (“nice ferret”). But she is also dealing with deeper issues.
At the center of the ensemble are Annie and Chris. They prove the rule that opposites attract — Annie is wry and quiet, Chris brassy and loud — and they complement each other perfectly. In fact, without Chris standing on a table teaching a Chinese restaurant to do “Jumping Jack Flash,” Annie and John (Phillip Gray) would never have dated so many years ago.
The audience is quickly aware that this friendship is deep and loving. The pair decide to raise money for a new settee for the cancer wing’s relatives waiting room, giving Annie a way to process her grief. But Chris has her own issues, and the calendar gives her a chance to show everyone what she can do, at the expense of the floral business she runs with her husband, Rod (Sean McBride).
Gray and Young first appeared on stage together 20 years ago, and their chemistry is obvious. The real-life friendship adds a deeper layer to the characters. The comedy is great, but the poignant moments are rich and deeply moving. They supply the nuance to the surface comedy.
The ensemble is excellent with Jodie Neff’s earnest, self-important Marie the perfect foil to her mischievous WI underlings. It is a testament to the script that Michael Kopta, Beth Gallaspy, Tiara Henderson, Jody Reho and Mary Cockrell, in small but crucial roles, are given a chance to clearly define their characters, which they do with skill.
Director Gina Hinson has crafted excellent set pieces that ramp up the comedy — the calendar shoot is frenetically choreographed and the cast is obviously having fun, which rubs off on the audience. But she also shows a delicate touch in the play’s poignant moment. The letter scene is particularly affecting.
“Calendar Girls” is well-worth seeing. As the old chestnut goes, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry” — and you will certainly be entertained.
So that’s my totally (mostly) unbiased review. I will be at the shows next weekend. Tell me I’m wrong — I don’t think you will.
The show runs Nov. 2, 3, 8, 10, 11 at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee at 2 p.m., Nov. 3. Tickets are available online at www.beaumontcommunityplayers.com.
A calendar of the actors in “costume” is available for $12, with all proceeds benefitting BCP.