Even if you haven’t seen the eponymous film, I’m sure you’re familiar with the premise of Calendar Girls: a group of middle-aged women create a risqué calendar for charity whose popularity exceeds their wildest dreams. It’s an interesting story filled with moments of laughter, love, and life. Audiences of all ages have been pleased with this light-hearted fare from the Ottawa Little Theatre so far and I’m sure you will be too.
The narrative is straightforward and at times predictable. What makes this story shine is its characters. We have Marie, the head of the Women’s Institute to which our heroines belong. Jenny Sheffield does a great job portraying a no-nonsense, proud leader whose anger when plans go awry somehow manages to get our sympathy in the end. There’s the powerful friendship between newly-widowed Annie (Rosemarie Dawson-Hill) and Chris (Jane Morris), seemingly polar opposites whose hearts are absolutely brimming with care and compassion for one another – even when Chris’ desire for fame gets a little out of hand. Judy McCormick plays Cora, the youngest of the group and a single mother whose adolescent daughter causes nothing but worry. These are just some of the quirky personalities we see, each of whom is imbued with believability, depth, and sensitivity.
In fact, my favourite aspect of this play was its authenticity. I applaud the commitment of this cast: the actresses were actually topless on stage (in the most tasteful of ways!) and it was cool to see the diversity of body types – all older, mind you – that each had their own beauty. As a young woman, I really appreciated this aspect of the play. In particular, the reluctance of Ruth to participate in the calendar because of her weight spoke to me. This scene starring Janet Uren had me in tears and the growth of her character’s confidence throughout the show was a tremendous delight to watch. All in all, Calendar Girls was a fun night out.
That said, I had a few minor problems with this production. Geoff Gruson did an excellent job showing us a sweet, endearing, thoughtful, strong John but I didn’t feel as strong an emotional connection with him as I had when watching the film. I know it’s an unfair comparison but I feel like the story on stage could have focused more on his character.
My biggest complaint, however, was the length of the show. This is neither an action-packed drama nor an uproarious farce so although it was a good production, it had a hard time maintaining my attention for over two hours. Judging from the reactions of the people around me, nobody else had this problem as the Ottawa Little Theatre was full of giggles and guffaws.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Did the scene changes irritate you and interrupt the flow? Was the ending cliche and saccharine, or beautiful and heartwarming? Did you buy a calendar after the show? Join the discussion and tell me what you think in the comments below.
Calendar Girls is presented by Ottawa Little Theatre. It runs now through April 16th at the OLT. Visit their show page for show times and to purchase tickets.