BWW Review: CALENDAR GIRLS COMBINES HEART & HUMOR at Powerstories
To explain the immensely talented ensemble that appeared in Calendar Girls at Powerstories last night, I am going to borrow a quote from Trish Farber as retired teacher Jessie. "I've never had a problem with age, my dear; it only has a problem with me."
Director Bridget Bean had said to me, that when you step outside your comfort zone, you can do great things.
On Thursday night in an intimate theatre with very little set, with the perfect lighting to reflect the changing moods, great things happened indeed.
Set in Yorkshire, the play introduces the love story of between Annie (Lucinda Schlotterback) and her husband John (Larry Corwin) who dies early in the first act from leukemia. The way the wheelchair is used to depict his passing is absolutely heart-breaking.
As a way to honor John, Annie wants to replace the "man-eating" ancient sette that's a danger to sit in, in the hospital waiting room. Her women's organization, the Women's Institution does annual stodgy calendars of landscapes and bridges that raise piddling amounts. Annie realizes that it is definitely not enough to cover the cost of a new sette. If they are to raise the funds needed, they are going to need to do something drastically different.
Hiding the concept from the rigidly conservative branch leader Marie (played brilliantly by Donna DeLonay), she and her best friend Chris (Samantha Parisi), the outspoken driving force of group, approach the ladies of WI with the idea of doing a tastefully nude calendar.
At first, they balk at the thought of themselves - middle-aged, average and normal-bodied women - baring themselves for the Yorkshire community to see, but eventually they warm up to idea of an alternative WI calendar to raise funds to honor John.
The production interweaves multiple storylines about the women, and everyone gets their chance to shine. The cast is truly believable as friends who support each other, fight and tease one another and share a strong drink to prepare for their photographs. The story celebrates women who learn to be confident in themselves.
Lucinda Schlotterback is sensational as Annie, a widow trying to find a silver lining in such devastating of circumstances. The love she and John portray in the beginning is absolutely believable and we feel her heartbreak of such a loss.
A combination of spitfire, stubbornness and steadfast determination, Samantha Parisi as Annie's best friend Chris, is a force of nature. Whether she's comforting Annie or reflecting on her own imperfections, the relationship between the women feels real.
Vivienne Brown is perfect as Chris' attention rival, a mixture of formality and funniness. Her description of her husband's obsession with golf had the audience laughing - "a disease called golf and it's terminal."
Melody Craven is both sweet and hysterical as Ruth, especially in a scene-stealing moment involving mistaken identity.
Emily Kochanski is enjoyable to watch as Cora, the vicar's daughter, a church organist with an outstanding voice. Her vulnerability comes through when she speaks about her daughter and losing touch with her child's father. "I loved him but I had to move back home. I lost touch in return for board and lodging. Which is what happens if you're young and pregnant ... and scared."
Trish Farber is wickedly funny as Jessie who attributes her venomous attitude to "overexposure to school children."
Completing this talented cast are Jen Casler, upper-crust perfection as Lady Cravenshire; Jim Moss as Rod, Chris' extremely understanding husband and flower shop partner, and Gershom Vacarizas, exceptional in dual roles as the photographer Lawrence and Liam, tv commercial producer. All contribute to the humor and heart of the story.
Tastefully-done and strategically-covered, the funniest scene in the play is expectedly where each of the women pose for their partially-nude photographs, covering themselves with items ranging from desserts, balls of yarn to teapots, flowers and more. When Jessie asks the photographer Lawrence if he remembers her, his reaction is memorable. Chris's reveal receives well-deserved laughter and applause.
Unexpectedly, the local calendar takes off and becomes an international sensation and takes a toll on their relationships.
Powerstories' Calendar Girls is everything you want in a play - a heartwarming and funny tale about women empowering themselves. It is a celebration of the last phase of life in all of its perfectly imperfect glory.
See Calendar Girls now through October 21 at Powerstories, 2105 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. Tickets are $25 general admission, $20 seniors, and $15 student and military with ID. Learn more at www.powerstories.com and follow of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.