BWW Reviews: CALENDAR GIRLS Exposes Character
There's something deliciously undercover at the Omaha Community Playhouse. CALENDAR GIRLS, directed by Susan Baer Collins, opens tonight for a four-week run. The strong ensemble cast reveals distinct, fully rounded personalities. I had so much fun watching their characters unfold, particularly the six friends who belong to the British social club for women, the WI (Women's Institute).
This tale is more than superficial hijinks and laughs. Based on a true story and adapted from Tim Firth's film, "Calendar Girls," it is a story of the courage and selflessness of women who find themselves late in life wondering whether there is more than knitting and talks on broccoli to fill their days. When Anne's husband John dies of leukemia, the friends bond together in an unusual fundraiser. They risk their reputations and dignity by posing nude (not naked...there's a difference, you know) for a calendar that will be sold to raise funds to buy a settee for the hospital in John's honor. The theme of the calendar suggests that what really goes on behind closed doors at the WI is more than cakes and flowers.
What I enjoyed most about this crazy play are the perfectly honed characters. Each is a unique woman with individual interests and gifts. There's Ruth (Julie Huff) who is shy and retiring. Julie does a great job with her body language...the slightly slumped shoulders, the tendency to hang back...and her shorts, which are hiked just a tad up in the front. She has spirit when pressed. She's no doormat and she shows it in one of my favorite scenes. Jessie (Sue Mouttet), a very sassy retired schoolteacher, is not to be left behind and she quickly demands respect for her physical and mental abilities. She's not old until she says she's old. Her outfit though!---a bright red scarf with rose-hued brown coat and pants with a mustard tone...horrendous, but perfectly suited to her character. You know that Jessie would have worn this. Cora (Debbie Cline) is the pianist who privately grieves her daughter who has run away. Her clothing suggests an artistic, Bohemian flare. Cecelia (Karrin Dignoti) is the blonde bombshell whose clothing accentuates her perfect proportions. She needs no further props. Ask her, she'll tell you so. Annie (Kathy Wheeldon) is your next-door neighbor widowed too soon dressed in early Montgomery Wards. She's kind and giving, devoted, with natural common sense. Then there's her best friend Chris (Kim Jubenville) an outspoken ball of fire who drives everything forward. She's the mover and the shaker. She's there to back up her friends or to bullnose ahead alone. We wonder if notoriety will distort her sense of "we" into "me."
Much focus is put on these six women, but the entire cast lends admirable support. Marie (Stacie Lamb) is borderline despicable yet humorous. She meddles and manipulates, becoming the obstacle the women must overcome. John's (Mike Markey) moving departure into the light tightens my throat.
The costumes designed by Nancy Kinrardy-Proett are not something to stand on their own merit as brilliant articles of clothing, but they are absolutely spot-on in their ability to speak volumes about the women wearing them. You almost can judge a book by its cover. There was thought put into costuming choices. When the ladies stand in sunflowers, they are all wearing shades of yellow and green and white, so they meld with the background and seem to say they are all just as much a part of nature as the flowers.
Set by Anna Packard and lighting by Herman Montero combine effectively to create the sensation of passing of days and nights, as well as the seasons. The painted hillside behind the arched windows is lovely and does give one the idea that they are inside the WI with the women. The lighting dramatically freezes the image as photos are taken of each lady.
There is much to love about this production: the jokes, the audacity of the women posing nude, the testing of friendships, and the nobility of the human spirit. It reminds us not to fill our days more and more with less and less, but to take risks, laugh with friends, and spend our days planting seeds that will add beauty to our world.
Photo credit: Colin Conces