The Women’s Institute has been in existence in England for over a hundred years. Initially started as an educational and social institution for rural women, it developed over the years into a nationwide voice for women’s issues. All women have always been welcome, the organization is non-political in a partisan sense and non-religious in a sectarian sense. At first it hoped to improve women’s educational opportunities. Later it championed women’s suffrage, health issues and a host of others. It is still active.
And how did the WI ladies feel about doing the calendar? Well, one of the real-life original Calendar Girls, Tricia Stewart put it this way in a Mirror article “…We’ll always be Calendar Girls. On my headstone will be, ‘Here Lies Miss October: Laid Bare.’”
“I can’t. I couldn’t,” might be the first thought that enters the mind when considering the idea of revealing oneself for a calendar. But, as the idea takes hold amongst a group of British ladies, they learn that allowing people to see them as they truly are just might be the biggest gift they could offer.
Opening at the Prescott Center for the Arts (PCA) on February 16 is the play, Calendar Girls. A comedy by Tim Firth, but with serious overtones, the play is based on a true story. In 1999, a Yorkshire park ranger died of leukemia. His wife and her friends from the Women’s Institute wanted to raise funds for a comfortable bench at the hospital where he had been treated. They decided to turn the yearly Women’s Institute calendar, usually devoted to natural beauty (bridges, flowers), into a more salable calendar, featuring human beauty, aka, nude women. But not just any women, this calendar would feature a group of ladies of all ages and sizes - carefully posed with a tiny glimpse of naughtiness. After all, as the members of the Women’s Institute insist, they are nude, not naked.
Ably played by an ensemble cast at the PCA, Calendar Girls unfolds to expose the unexpected results of creating a calendar unlike any other. Robyn Allen, PCA Executive Director, takes on the role of Chris while long time favorite, Linda Fine, plays Annie, the bereaved widow. With a strong cast of other memorable characters, the Women’s Institute of Knapeley struggles with a variety of issues, both personal and social, to bare all, tastefully, trying to make Annie’s dream come true.
The first scene in the play starts with humor - not the forced kind of humor, but an ordinary humor seen in everyday life. Looking around, smiles on the faces in the audience were filled with recognition - it was funny, because it was familiar. Later, as Annie and her husband cope with the news of his illness and care, that was familiar, too. Yet, even during the difficulties of life, gentle humor irresistibly bubbled up throughout the entire performance. Some tears are shed, but it’s the laughter that carries the performance.
Although there is nothing on stage which you wouldn’t want your children to see, the themes explored are probably not of much interest to the very young. While issues of coming to terms with failure to realize one’s dreams, youthful plans, societal expectations and grave personal loss, are important, and even hilariously funny, but they may not be for all family members.
As usual at the PCA the staging is great, without being obtrusive. The sets are well designed to suggest the various locations, and the costumes are really good. Cathy Hahn, Ronnie Lopez and Janice Shanks have done well in suggesting the variety of contemporary dress, giving each character a personal style. The quick changes by the actors are amazing. Director Catherine Miller Hahn keeps things moving briskly without seeming at all hurried. Each scene and performance seems to flow naturally.
Come experience the Calendar Girls yourself:
Where? Prescott Center for the Arts—208 North Marina St.
When? Thurs. Feb. 16 7:30 pm
Fri. Feb. 17 7:30 pm
Sat. Feb. 18 7:30 pm
Sun. Feb. 19 2:00 pm
Thurs. Feb. 23 7:30 pm
Fri. Feb. 24 7:30 pm
Sat. Feb. 25 2:00 pm
Sat. Feb. 25 7:30 pm
Sun. Feb. 26 2:00 pm
Tickets—Evening Adult $22, Evening Youth $17, Matinee Adult $18, Matinee Youth $14
Purchase tickets online at www.pca-az.net
Visit Box Office in the Art Gallery, usual hours — Monday 11 am to 3 pm, Tuesday through Saturday 10 am to 3 pm
PCA accepts Cash, Checks, VISA, Master Card, Discover
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