BWW Review: CALENDAR GIRLS at The Community Players offers spirited comedy
Never underestimate the power of women, especially naked ones. In Tim Firth's Calendar Girls, now being performed by Pawtucket's Community Players, an unlikely group of women bares it all for a charity calendar - and learns what each of them is made of in the process.
The play follows six middle-aged women in a rural Yorkshire chapter of the Women's Institute, an organization whose members plan community outreach events over tai chi and badminton. After one of its members, Annie (Heather Carey), loses her husband, John (David Mann) to cancer, the group - led by the attention-loving Chris (Karen Gail Kessler) - decides to raise money in John's name through unconventional means: producing an annual WI chapter calendar that features its members in the buff.
As the calendar becomes an international sensation, the women's relationships are tested and their personal lives transformed, whether through gaining the confidence to stand up for themselves, the courage to acknowledge personal loss, or the hope to imagine a future a bit less isolated than the present.
In the play's more serious moments, the production does not quite overcome Firth's inherently thin plot, which, in developing the relationships between characters through mostly cursory gestures, leaves the women's individual arcs less satisfying than they could be.
But Calendar Girls became a hit for making us laugh rather than cry, and the spirited ensemble cast does well with the play's light comedy. The production is at its most winning during scenes that showcase the six "calendar girls" sharing fast-paced banter that conveys each one's distinct personality - from the eager-to-please Ruth (Susan Martin) to the unapologetically irreverent Celia (Prreeti Tiwari) to the matter-of-fact (not quite) retired teacher, Jessie (Lynn Price).
Among these performances, Sylvia A. Bagaglio stands out as Cora, the church organist and single mother whose tough exterior protects her from the lingering pain of her personal sacrifices. Bagaglio paints a complex picture of Cora as she moves easily between well-timed quips and personal revelations. And the exchanges between the Kessler's Chris and Carey's Annie convey the easy familiarity of these two long-time friends.
The Community Player's Calendar Girls runs Fridays and Saturdays through March 1st at Jenks Auditorium, located at 350 Division Street, Pawtucket, RI. Tickets are $18 (general admission), $12 (children and students).
Tickets are available online at www.thecommunityplayers.net. For more information, call (401) 726-6860 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.