“Calendar Girls” opens with the revelation that a man is dying. John Clarke, husband of Annie and friend to all members of the Women’s Institute Club in the small town of Knapeley, Yorkshire, reveals to his wife Annie that the results of his tests have come back, and the news isn’t good.
John (played by Barry Borgstrom) then succumbs to cancer over the next couple of scenes in the latest production of Off-Centre Players. And his death — one of the many beautifully enacted moments in the play — drives the rest of the characters on to their destinies.
“Calendar Girls,” directed by Terry Miller and produced by Elizabeth Adler, opens tonight, May 6, at Centre 64 in Kimberley. It is a series of interconnected vignettes, which follows the cast of 14 through more than 80 entrances and exits and a shimmering display of costumery, in a story of liberation and courage.
Annie (Susan Hanson) is the emotional centre of the play, and her friend Chris (Killeen Delorme) is the catalyst. They and their four friends — Cora, Celia, Ruth and Jessie (Nola Jean, Michelle Lemay, Michelle McCue and Joanne Wilkinson respectively) — take over the production of the annual WI calendar (generally known for pictures of local churches and suchlike drab landmarks), to present themselves, unclothed, to raise money to buy a new settee for the hospital where John died.
As Chris announces in persuading the others, there’s a difference between naked and nude.
Each has her own reasons for taking part, some simply because of their loyalty to their friends, others because it’s a chance to break outside their comfort zone — some of them very far outside it indeed. The zone of comfort includes “the stultifying rules” of small-town Yorkshire living, and the conservative, almost Victorian, traditions of the Women’s Institute.
The over-arching reason, of course, is the impetus to create some corresponding good from John’s death.
The moment of disrobing is a moment of great drama and joy, the play’s centrepiece moment at its halfway point. One can see the courage it takes to lay it all on the line like that, not only from the characters’ point of view, but the actors themselves.
The project succeeds more than the participants could ever have imagined, bringing them not only fame in their small community, but world-wide attention. But the pressure starts to build — the calendar starts to become bigger than they, and to demand more of them, to force them to reveal more of themselves than they expected, and to take that fame further than most of them can go.
Here is the difference between naked and nude: Nude is when only enough is bared to sell a calendar and start a conversation. Naked is when your vulnerabilities are exposed, and the issues within yourself you have troubles confronting are suddenly available for all to see.
And so the pressure builds. Rifts appear in the women’s relationships, and in their friendships with each other. The question is, how to rebuild and repair, to go back to their frameworks of the past, while retaining the liberation and enlightenment they have experienced.
Rounding out the stellar cast are Jennifer Henkes-Inglis as Marie, the stern president of the Women’s Institute (fresh off her role in Cranbrook Community Theatre’s “The Foreigner”); Sioban Staplin as Brenda Hulse (who arrives at the WI to give a talk on broccoli); Thom McCaughey as Chris’s husband Rod; Brigitte Franyo as the posh Lady Cravenshire; Jerrod Bondy (Fresh off his role in “Foreigner”) as Lawrence the photographer (Patrick Baranowski will also be appearing in this role); Tylene Turner as Elaine the TV studio beautician; Andy Rogers as Liam the TV producer.
The production itself is a fundraiser for the East Kootenay Foundation for Health. Not only are proceeds from the show going towards the cause, but a real calendar, with photos by Brian Clarkson featuring the actresses, is on sale at the same venue as the tickets (Lotus Books in Cranbrook and and the Snowdrift Cafe in Kimberley).
And the show is making a rare and welcome double run in both towns — May 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 at Centre 64 in Kimberley and May 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 at the Studio/Stage Door in Cranbrook.