Friday, October 2, 2015

Calendar Girls at Olympia Little Theatre

Published in the Weekly Volcano, Oct. 1, 2015
Erin Quinn Valcho as Celia and Jon Lee as John. Photo by Austin Lang.

Calendar Girls, adapted by Tim Firth from the movie of the same name, is a sweet and frothy comedy with a heartfelt underlying theme of self-acceptance and caring for others.
Chris (Kathy Harris) and her best friend, Annie (Jane Brody) are fed up with the leadership style of the president of the Women’s Institute in North Yorkshire, England, Marie (Kendra Malm), and of the club’s bland slide lectures and uninspired fundraisers. After Annie’s husband, John (Jon Lee) dies of leukemia, the women decide to raise funds for the hospital in his memory.
Calendar Girls doing "aerobics?" Photo by Austin Lang.
Chris seems to be the only one of the women with an original thought in her head or a bit of daring in her soul — except perhaps Celia (Erin Quinn Valcho), the only one who dares to be slightly risqué. Inspired by something John said: "The flowers of Yorkshire are like the women of Yorkshire" and "The last phase of the women of Yorkshire is always the most glorious," Chris proposes that instead of the proposed calendar celebrating local bridges they should make a calendar of themselves — middle age women — posing in the nude with strategically placed props such as flowers and cupcakes or pots and pans in a kitchen setting. Naturally, the other women are horrified yet somewhat titillated by the idea. Eventually they come around.
It’s a silly idea but delightful, designed to be as titillating to audiences as the calendar they produce.
Jon Lee as John and Jane Brody as Annie. Photo by Austin Lang.

According to the actor biographies in the program, one of the actors has no prior experience on stage and a few of the others have very little. The biggest drawback to their lack of acting experience is that some of them fail to project their voices or clearly articulate. This was so much in evidence opening night that I failed to hear possibly as much as a third of the words.
The only actors who came across as fully experienced were Malm, who also directed; Lee, whose character died less than halfway through the first act; and Diana Purvine as Jessie, probably the oldest of the women; and Austin C. Lang in the double role of Lawrence the photographer and Liam (I could not tell exactly what his job was, but I think a producer or stage manager for a TV show the girls were to be on).  Lang was absolutely believable as the nervous photographer who was more embarrassed by the nudity than were any of the women, with the possible exception of Ruth (Jean Kivi Thomas) who had to get drunk before posing for her shot. Thomas acted the part nicely but was one of the most difficult to hear. Harris and Valcho were among the most expressive of the actors. Harris portrayed Chris with joyful flirtatiousness, and Valcho played Celia with natural restraint.
There are a lot of costume changes, including some ridiculous animal costumes and holiday costumes, as per example Ruth’s bunny rabbit costume that the other women took to be a mouse or a hamster, and Celia and Chris competing for the sexiest Santa Claus costume. Plus the everyday wardrobes of the women that ranged from Marie’s bland business attire to some ludicrous sportswear (costumes by Allison Gerst).
The funniest scene in the play was the photo shoot in which the women comically and skillfully managed to strip naked (or “nude” as Chris insisted on calling it) without exposing so much flesh as to make audience members uncomfortable. The program and advertising warns of “burlesque-style nudity.” Not to worry, there’s much more to be seen on network television every night of the week.
Calendar Girls, Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 4,Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia, tickets $10-$14, available at Yenney Music, 2703 Capital Mall Dr., Olympia, 360).786.9484,

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