By GLENN “KRAZ” KRASNY
The sunflower’s name is often mistakenly attributed to its appearance resembling the sun. However, its name comes from the fact that the flower follows the sun as it tracks in the sky and always finds the light. This theme permeates the Melbourne Civic Theater’s production of Tim Firth’s “Calendar Girls.”
Set in Yorkshire, England, “Calendar Girls” is based on a true story of the Knapely Village Women’s Institute’s fundraising calendar, which gained notoriety due to the fact that the ladies, of all maturity and body types appeared sans vestments, i.e. nude. The inspiration for the calendar was the death of a club member’s husband to leukemia; the club’s goal was to purchase a settee for the treatment center where he was a patient.
Director Peg Girard exposes the play’s theme of unity and humanity of near strangers supporting those suffering bereavement and, as she states in the program notes, “real people doing real things (very bravely) for complete strangers in their hour of need.”
The ladies of the cast, as it must have been with the real ladies of the calendar, are faced with overcoming their inhibitions and self-doubts by bravely striping away their fears and clothes for a good cause. Let’s get right to it, the nudity is there; but, due to creative comic direction including imaginative use of props and poses, the exposure is kept appropriately tame and tasteful, albeit cheeky (wink).
The serious nature of dealing with the scourge of cancer and disease weaves into the tapestry of the show with humor and heartbreak between characters Annie, (Tori Smith) and her ailing husband, John (a dynamic Peter Olander).
Also engaging and touching is the relationship between friends Chris, played skillfully by Susan Suomi and Annie, their whimsy and light nature becoming ever more complicated with Annie’s loss and Chris’s inner conflicts. Tori Smith’s portrayal of Annie is particularly heartfelt and well executed, down to maintaining the subtleties of the difficult Yorkshire accent throughout.
Rounding out the complete bouquet of characters in the club are a timeless and aloof Priscilla Blyseth as Jessie, the powerful and irascible Tracey Thompson as the vicar’s sarcastic daughter Cora, sultry Heather Mowad as Celia, and the bouncy, bubbly Becky Behl-Hill as Ruth, a wildcard with a secret of her own.
Supporting cast standouts are firecracker Nadine Antilla as bossy, busy-body Marie and photographer Lawrence played by Dan Wilkerson, who masterfully improvised through some dress rehearsal rough edges to add unexpected hilarious comic relief.The costume design and construction by Janine Black provides some stunning evening dresses that dazzled. Wendy Reader’s sound design blends scene changes and sets the mood with subtle ease. The impressionistic set is formed by a simplistic and utilitarian framework, lighting specials and projections (designed by Alan Selby). It sublimely places various locales with pools of lights that illuminate these flowering characters.
With great loss and suffering we sometimes misplace the light and energy of life. This show reminds us that we must seek that light from within and share it to sew the seeds of hope, shed our fears and carry on even through adversity to blossom and shine in our own right.
Mr. Krasny attended the dress rehearsal of “Calendar Girls.”
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Calendar Girls” runs through Feb. 26 at Melbourne Civic Theatre. It performs 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays and 2 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 18. Tickets are $31 general $29 seniors. Call 321-723-6935, visit MyMCT.org or click onto their ad. Tickets are selling out fast.