Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
November 21, 2014
Know the difference between ‘naked’ and ‘nude’? ‘The Calendar Girls’ will tell you: Nude simply means more or less undressed. Naked means unprotected and vulnerable.
So, it’s nude photos in Tim Firth’s poignant 2009 comedy, “Calendar Girls.” Based on a true story and made into a film in 2003, the play concerns a Yorkshire Women’s Institute. After one of the members lost her beloved husband to leukemia in 1998, they all banded together to raise money for cancer research. These close-knit, middle-aged women posed for a pinup calendar, and it became an international sensation, selling 88,000 copies and raising more than half a million dollars a year.
In the play, the names have been changed, but the situation remains basically the same. Real life, however, was probably a lot less funny.
The piece played London’s West End, then went on a national tour of England and Australia. It was also seen in Canada.
But DJ Sullivan, who is retiring from the theater after 60 years of teaching and directing, snagged the first, exclusive American rights.
DJ cast many of her long-term Sullivan Players, women willing to create an amusing calendar of their own, the proceeds of which will benefit the San Diego Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. But there’s an extra layer of relevance here: almost everyone involved with the production has had a close personal encounter with cancer.
So, when rabble-rousing firebrand Chris, convincingly played by Dori Salois, rails against the monstrous disease, you believe her every word.
The pace is a bit sluggish in the first act, and the characters are fairly two-dimensional, but the ensemble is energetic and committed. Thankfully, the humor dampens the sentimentality and occasional didacticism.
The excellent intention of the play and production makes you want to buy a calendar (even indomitable director Sullivan is in it!), and donate to a worthy cancer cause. If a comedy encourages you to be bold and philanthropic, that’s nothing less than a triumph.
“Calendar Girls” runs through November 23, at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights.
©2014 PAT LAUNER