Written by Alina Mae Wilson
It is absolutely essential for a story to have conflict. You cannot have a story without it. Problems are what drive the narrative and keep us in the audience interested. Sometimes the conflict is overt, abrupt, and slamming against your face the entire time you’re watching. Sometimes it’s subtle. Sometimes it’s too subtle. Sometimes it’s so subtle you completely forget there was a conflict at all, only to be briefly reminded before a hasty resolution, and you walk out of the theater frustrated and exhausted because the show is so…darn…long. In this instance, the show is called Calendar Girls.
When Annie’s husband passes away from leukemia, she decides to honor his memory by donating a new settee to the hospital where he stayed. In order to raise money money for the couch, Annie convinces a group of her closest friends to pose nude in a calendar. A few problems arise in the aftermath of the calendar’s unexpected success.
Newport Theater Arts Center has done a really good job with this set. Most of the story takes place inside what I believe is a church room dedicated to hosting the WI (Women’s Institute) meetings . It’s a pretty simple setting, but the detail given to the room –just the right type of couches, cupboards, and a little table near the back –make it about as convincing as you could possibly ask for. The costumes are fine; they’re cheerfully colored, modern day outfits with the occasional lop eared rabbit thrown in.
At first, the plot of Calendar Girls sounds promising. It is the story about a group of friends deciding to help one of their own in her mission to honor her husband’s memory, and they do it in one of the most scandalous ways conceivable. There’s something of a Golden Girls feel to the whole thing when you consider that they’re all older women talking and joking about things like friendship, people they know, and *gasp* sex. The fact that Calendar Girls is based on the actions of a real group of women that makes it all the better. So where does it fall short –the conflict department. I understand this is based on a true story, and in real life you are not constantly bombarded with conflict and chaos. Sometimes you just live. However, there seems to be too much casual living and not enough dilemma. The problems these women face are entirely expected. Older ladies wanting to pose unclothed in a calendar that relatives and church goers will see, oh my goodness the scandal. But there really isn’t enough scandal to make it interesting. The women want to pose, so they pose. Exactly ONE lady they personally know makes an issue about it, but she doesn’t do so until we are about halfway through the story, and she doesn’t do anything other than gossip for a moment and be catty. One of the shy and retiring ladies manages to find her self esteem near the end, but her problems are such a nonissue that I think the audience kind of forgets to celebrate her victory. There is a moment of tension between best friends, but it is over and done with so quickly it’s really not worth mentioning. Also the play is almost three hours long. There is only so much pleasure to gotten from charming fifty to sixty year olds talking about nudity and bunny ears (although I love the bunny ears).
Dull plot or not, all of the actors here are on point. Every single one of the calendar girls are committed and convincing in their roles. They are believable and pleasant enough, so I can’t imagine NOT wanting to spend time with any of them. I think that the special mention of the night goes to Michelle Miller-Day who plays Annie with a sort of tentativeness. You understand that posing like this is new territory for her, but you believe that she would do it for the right reasons. I also think Roxanne Martinez is great as the timid Ruth. She is sweet and lovable enough that I just want to go up onstage and hug her whenever she appears.
The set is good; the acting is great, but I think the story takes too long to get to the essential point of the story. Considering most of us know or suspect how it is going to end, that lack of surprise means that there ought to be some more fighting during the journey.