Saturday, July 30, 2016

Wetumpka Depot: "Calendar Girls"

Calendar Girls (2008), Tim Firth's comedy based on actual events in the small town of Knapely in Yorkshire, England in 1999, is ending its sold-out run at the Wetumpka Depot Theatre.

Stephen Dubberley directs his twelve ensemble actors -- a mix of Depot veterans and newcomers -- who tell the story of a group of W.I. [Women's Institute] ladies who try to raise money for a new settee for the waiting room at the local cancer ward following the death of one of their members' husbands. -- While they are accustomed to traditional fund-raising scenarios, this time they agree to pose nude (but tastefully topless) for a calendar, a guise that signals hesitation from some, rejection from others, a few misunderstandings and jealousies, and plenty of good natured laughs from the audience.

Annie [Teri Sweeney] and Chris [Eleanor Davis] are best friends, and their husbands John [Bill Nowell] and Rod [Lee Bridges] are attentive in the women's W. I. activities; Marie [Gayle Lees Sandlin] is the overbearing president of the group who insists on continuing a series of banal and uninteresting monthly presentations that the others are eager to postpone or cancel, never forgetting their mantra "enlightenment, fun, and friendship" that s supposed to keep the bond among them strong.

The rest of the group -- Jesse [Hazel Jones], Cora [Brooke Killen Poague], Celia [Cindy Smith], Elaine [Katie Therkelsen], Ruth [Marcella Willis], Brenda and Lady Cravenshire [MariahRiley] -- comprise an eclectic mix of familiar character types.

When John dies and Chris suggests the calendar, the women's bravery as well as friendships are tested, but they go on with the photo shoot with an embarrassed photographer named Lawrence [Tate Pollock] on hand to ensure the photos will look good and not offend even the most staid members of the community. Some of the play's finer comic moments are in this section as the calendar months' decorative touches that hide the women's breasts get increasingly more bizarre; and the women take it in stride and play up the silliness of their escapades in front of the camera. -- Later on, Mr. Pollock plays an outrageously camp television commercial  producer/director who assumes the women will pose completely nude for his camera.

When the calendar becomes more successful than they ever dreamed, it seems to Annie that Chris is more concerned with the fame they receive than the purpose of raising money in tribute to John's memory. -- All things will be sorted out by the end, as friendships are strengthened, misunderstandings are set aright, and there is enough money to build a new wing at the cancer hospital.

The Depot's production runs a long two-hours-and-twenty-minutes, partly due to overlong stretches of exposition that could do with judicious cutting, and also by a rather slow pace for much of the action. And some of the "Britishness" surrounding the W.I. might be lost on an American audience. -- But the characters are of such familiar types that they travel well across the Atlantic, and the acting company are comfortable inhabiting them. -- There are plenty of laughs and a lot of compassion in the lives in front of us on the Depot stage.