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Bob Goepfert Reviews "Calendar Girls"

Saratoga Springs – “Calendar Girls,” which is at Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs through May 1, is that rare theater event – a play about female empowerment.   

This means it will completely satisfy at least half the audience.  Actually, it should satisfy the entire audience - half of the time.  

The first act is a happy romp as a group of English ladies decide to raise funds for a cancer ward in a local hospitable by making a commemorative calendar. Since the organizations most recent calendars – one on local bridges, the other on graveyards – didn’t sell well, someone comes up with the idea of a calendar featuring club members in the nude.

The idea threatens most of the middle-aged women who have no delusions about how time has altered their bodies.  Plus the idea of overcoming social taboos concerning nudity is daunting for the ladies.  

The first act is pleasantly entertaining as the situation is set. We get to know the boring lives of the women as their friendships as their personalities are revealed in a charming manner.  Too we get to see the failing health of the husband of a club member that gives the club a personal cause when he passes away.

The second half of the first act contains the most charming moments in the play.  Here the women overcome their fears and inhibitions as they bond together for a good cause.   Individually they become empowered and together they form warm personal relationships.

The first act culminates in a really enjoyable photo shoot which is offered in a tasteful manner. This a not  a moment for voyeurs as the fun comes not from seeing anything, but being delighted as to how cleverly and strategically the ladies suggest nudity without revealing very much. The true joy comes from seeing the women being so supportive of each other as they become more and more liberated as individuals.

After the climactic photo shoot, the play really has nowhere to go.  Thus, while the first act is a satisfying, light-hearted and entertaining segment the second act tries to become more probing.  It dwells on how the experience changed the individuals.  Some changes are for the better, others less so.  The alteration in tone has a happy play about female bonding turn into a more sobering work about the problems of each individual.  It is less satisfying on many levels.

One major problem throughout the production is the slow pace director Dianne O’Neill Filer sets for the work.   There is a sameness of mood in every scene that is tiring.  It is less a problem in the first act as we are learning about the characters and their comical observations are funny.   It isn’t until the photo shoot that the staging becomes inventive.  For this scene the individual photos are so enthusiastically staged that the new found energy becomes almost palpable.

However, in the second act, a plodding pace combined with monotone emotive deliveries work against the performers.  It is easy to care about a group of underdogs finding themselves, it is less easy to invest in the women’s personal issues like a cheating husband, being shunned by the country club set, or enjoying fame too much.

Fortunately the cast is able to overcome all but the most egregious journeys into introspective self-pity but few scenes are able to hide the fact that the title “Calendar Girls” is plural and the play works best when the women act as a team.

Each cast member effectively captures the personality of their character with the two leads Devra Cohen-Tigor as the widow Annie and Joan Meyer as the ebullient Chris drive the show as they do they calendar project. Both women offer strong individual performances and find the sincerity within their deep friendship.

Kevin Miller’s almost empty set that is functional but it deprives director O’Neill Filer only rare opportunities to seat the women.  This results in scene after scene with ladies standing in boring straight line formations.  Bravo to Mary Fran Hughes who’s props win the audience’s applause while protecting the modestly of the actresses.  

“Calendar Girls” is play of modest charm that will please half the audiences all the time or delight all of the audience half the time.  

“Calendar Girls” at Home Made Theater, Saratoga Springs.  Weekends through May 1.   587-4427

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

 The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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