By Toni Wilson Wood
I am very proud of Cedar Falls Community Theatre for staging Calendar Girls. It’s an unconventional choice for them, given that their usual fare is decidedly less so. Nothing wrong with that at all, but it is great to see a show that stands out like this one.
Calendar Girls features 12 female role out of the 17 in the show, and the majority of the female characters are women of a certain age. I love seeing people doing things that are out of character. Like, with Calendar Girls, the girls in the title are actually grown women and they all decide to pose nude for a fundraising calendar. None of us grown kids expect our mothers, aunts and even grandmothers to do something like this.
The result? A perfectly funny and poignant evening at the theatre, laughing at a group of perfectly human and unconventional women as their story unfolds.
(Spoilers ahead…) The play, based on a true story and a movie of the same title, follows a couple, Annie and John, as John dies of leukemia. After his death, Annie’s close friend, Chris decides to replace the man eating couch in the waiting room of the hospital John died in with a new comfortable one, funded by the sales of the calendar. The play then follows Annie and Chris convincing the other women to do it, the Women’s Institute to approve it, and then the ups and downs that come with the fame that follows the calendar’s release.
There is fine ensemble work done by the six women of the WI (Linnea Nicol as Cora, Jean Carlisle as Chris, Julie Petersen as Annie, Bonnie Williams as Jessie, Penny O’Conner as Celia and Leslie Cohn as Ruth) and their mismatched stuffy leader (Miriam Salamah as Marie). Each actor brought to life a delightful woman with flaws, quirks and strengths that I’m sure we can all relate to, or at least see in other women we love.
O’Conner was particularly hysterical as the saucy Celia and Cohn’s portrayal of the fragile, unsure Ruth was so good that when her character begins to change and grow, you just want to jump up and cheer. Nicol’s Cora was hand-wringingly funny, William’s Jessie was particularly hysterical in the scene where the pictures were taken, where she engages her former student, the amateur photographer taking the pictures (played with delicious awkwardness by Randy Everding), and Carlisle’s Chris was a delightful instigator, who has an interesting character arc.
But it was the portrayal of Annie by Julie Petersen and of John by Mike Fleming that particularly touched me. Near the end of Act I, I was literally in tears, focusing on the beautiful way the scenes were staged, directed, and lit to keep from making one of the really ugly cry snorts as I breathed.
The poignant beauty of John’s death scene touched my heart and soul, and it made me think of those I’d personally lost and of those our theatre community have lost, particularly Thomas Carlisle, who we lost earlier this year. Being able to see this kind of emotional work on stage is both heart wrenching and heart healing at the same time. As someone who has been on stage and has written for the stage, I know the kind of difficult work that goes into creating a show like this. Everyone in the cast and behind the scenes really poured their heart and love into this emotional, beautiful work.
And speaking of beautiful, holy smokes, that set! Timothy Walker outdid himself on this set–a gorgeous church that is both intimate and lofty at the same time, with tons of intricate touches. The backdrop of John’s hill, when lit, was stunning. The gorgeous sunflower design on the floor of the stage made me jealous of the patrons in the balcony.
If you go to see Calendar Girls (and you should), be sure to bring tissues–you will need them. And don’t worry about the nudity–it’s partial nudity and it’s all done very tastefully.