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Girls gone wild — and wrinkled

10/31/2016

The opening night of “Calendar Girls” was sold out, and some of the reasons were obvious. The comedy makes for an amiable night, like its source, a date flick from 2003, starring Helen Mirren. Who doesn’t enjoy seeing “women of a certain age” getting rowdy and baring their souls — plus a lot of skin? The big cast also includes a number of busy and well-connected locals such as Karen Schaeffer, who recently picked up a Cloris Award.

img_8361Small wonder the Tallgrass Company, launching its 13th season, had the pleasure of turning folks away at the door. As for those who got in, they, too, were in for a treat, though the fare tasted distinctly of saccharine.

Playwright Tim Firth also worked on the film, and he knows his strength lies with the friendships among these aging women of small-town Britain. At some point, each of the six major players breaks into a crack-voiced soliloquy that exposes some old wound, but each soon enough tumbles back into a group hug. So, too, everyone pulls together in the central incident, putting out a charity calendar that features these same 50- or 60-somethings posing nude — well, sort of. Such a calendar became an actual bestseller at the end of the 1990s, and in adapting the story, Firth took care to create characters who never stray far from the ordinary. His ladies are “keepin’ it real,” even to the point of getting naked — sort of. They peel down for show’s highlight, the photography session, which ends with a punch line one could see coming from a long way — but doesn’t stop one from laughing.

The goodwill owes a lot to Tom Perrine’s canny direction, changing the arrangement for each flare-up and reconciliation. As he shifts the dramatic center, he offsets the staid, square look, your basic brown and beige, a church meeting room. Granted, this suits Ye Olde milieu, and from time to time the backstage panels open onto more air and color. Still, the most refreshing moments in this production arrive thanks to the actresses.

Davida Williams and Julia Noyce play the central twosome, one losing a husband to leukem
ia and the other so eager to help she risks going too far. Together they give off sparks of genuine longtime connection, visible even in the balance of body language. Noyce relies more on a sharp gesture, Williams on a cutting glance. Also they match up in the joshing warmth of their marriages, though the script generally reduces the husbands to cuddle-bears. When Jim Benda and John Butz do come alive, it’s in their exchanges with their wives.

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The Playbill tells us that Noyce was raised in England, and not surprisingly, she maintains the most consistent accent. Overall, however, there’s just one galling lapse into Americanese, and Williams shows off a remarkable tonal range. In last spring’s “Raisin In the Sun,” after all, she played a woman out of Chicago’s South Side. Among the others, Suzy Oddy made the strongest impression, now choking up over an estranged child, now flashing a grin that took her straight back to teen high jinks. Rejuvenation lurks where you least expect it throughout this entertaining affair that proves a spoonful of medicine does indeed help the sugar go down.

Overheard in the Lobby: Starting Nov. 17, Ames Community Theater features “November,” a scathing political comedy from David Mamet.

“Calendar Girls,” Tallgrass Theater
Rex Mathis Auditorium, Vine St., West Des Moines
Nov. 4-5, Nov. 11-12, and Nov. 13

 

2 Comments

  1. What an offensive and inappropriate headline for what would be, based on the content of the article, an otherwise positive review. The author’s lack of creativity, and honestly their gall, to boil the show down to such an ageist/sexist catch phrase is ridiculous. Shame on you.

  2. The title… really?

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