Antioch’s PM&L Theatre opened its 58th season with an R-rated dramedy – the well-received and enthusiastic “Calendar Girls” by Tim Firth.
Based on the true story of 11 middle-aged British Women Institute members who posed nude for a fundraising calendar to benefit Skipton Hospital’s cancer ward, the play premiered at the 2008 Chichester Festival before launching in London’s West End.
“Calendar Girls” holds the record for being the fastest-selling play in British history, but may be most familiar to American audiences because of the 2003 Helen Mirren and Julie Walters Miramax film of the same name.
The plot is simple and entertaining. Conformist and peacemaker Annie, lovingly played by Woodstock native Lynn Sciaraffa, and mischievously bold Chris (the very convincing and compelling Christina Heilgeist) resolve to raise money for a settee in the cancer waiting room. Annie’s popular husband has recently succumbed to leukemia.
The duo persuade the other women’s institute members to pose nude for an “alternative” calendar – no more churches, landscapes and local bridges! – which becomes an international sensation from Cincinnati to Japan.
It is a “cheeky” play, both literally and figuratively, and I confess I was more than curious as to how PM&L would handle the calendar poses. Let me assure you six very brave and committed actresses do it with decorum, strategically placed props, and clever staging. I also will warn you that one actress in particular (no spoiler alerts) completely steals the scene, if not the entire play, with her “positioning.”
Director Deane Jones handles the concurrent themes of friendship, determination, hope, loss and aging with poignancy and humor. The ensemble cast of 14 delivers with talent and commendable pacing.
Notable performances radiate from Bruce Berger (the stoic John), he of the booming voice and expressive face; Lorrie Ferguson (the snobby and oh-so-proper Marie), Diane Hosken (the meek, but very enthusiastic participant Ruth in all WI activities), Karah Jansen (the vicar’s wayward daughter Cora) and Dean J. Griffiths (flower shop Rod). These five also credibly, believably and applaudingly maintain their English accents throughout the play. And do keep your eye on Aileen Biel as Lady Cravenshire. She is such a delight you wish she had many more scenes.
Beyond the heartwarming and humorous script, there is so much to enjoy in this play. Mark Audrain’s set has captured a North Yorkshire women’s institute church meeting hall, Lorrie Ferguson and cast’s costuming fits each character appropriately, and Gene LeFave’s musical interludes from pre-show to scene change are an audible delight.
Fit PM&L Theatre’s “Calendar Girls” into your calendar. Make a date with this celebratory crowd pleaser.
Regina Belt-Daniels is a working actress and director. She is a retired District 47 special educator, a retired Raue Center for the Arts board member, and currently serves on the boards of RCLPC and It’s Showtime.
Through Sept. 23
Tickets: $15 (seniors and students), $18 (adults)
877 Main St., Antioch