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The Playgoer: Colonial Players’ Calendar Girls

Scandalously good in the nearly nude

By doing nudity-in-the-round while preserving the players’ and audience’s modesty, Colonial Players accomplishes the nearly impossible.

Without revealing too much, let’s just say that in Calendar Girls, a dramedy based on real events, a traditional ladies’ club hits pay dirt and headlines with a fundraising calendar featuring themselves tastefully dishabille in domestic poses, cellulite and all. They hope for a purse large enough to refurnish their hospital’s oncology waiting room. Instead, they earn enough to build a new wing named for a husband who dies of leukemia.

Helen Mirren earned a Golden Globe nomination for her appearance in the 2003 film.

It’s an unlikely group of models, middle-aged and senior in all shapes and sizes, including self-effacing Ruth (Karen Lambert), playful Celia (Lynn Garretson), cerebral Jessie (Mary Fawcett-Watko), irreverent Annie (Marti Pogonowski), cheeky Chris (Laura Gayvert) and Cora (Shannon Benil) who self-identifies as vicar’s daughter, the organist and a single mother. Only club president Marie (Darice Clewell), blinkered in her devotion to time-honored traditions, abstains. Still, in the dustup that follows, she must explain it all to Lady Cravenshire (Kathy Jones) of the club’s district leadership.

Despite their differences, these ladies support one another through struggles with family, finances and health. They’re sympathetic women, even when they’re not acting like it. The only villain, Elaine (Rosalie Daelemans), is not a club member but a dishy homewrecker and make-up technician who gets her comeuppance.

In a play about a club, it is fitting that all but two of the faces are familiar to Colonial Players audiences. From last season’s Side Man there’s Jason Vellon, bringing star wattage and adaptability to his two antithetical photographers – bashful Lawrence and brazen Liam. Rick Estberg, also seen in Side Man, conveys physical decline that is almost too realistic. Eric Lund, best known for his technical work, is charming as Chris’ florist husband Rod. From Enchanted April, Fawcett-Watko brings her native Yorkshire accent to bear as dialect coach.
 
Past Player’s president Clewell — also seen in Enchanted April — elevates seriousness to absurdity in a badminton match featuring an imaginary net.
Gayvert, last seen in Frozen, delights as a dishy rebel opposite the prim matron of Lambert, last seen in Good People. Likewise Garretson, Benil and Pogonowski bring a comfortable camaraderie to the ensemble. Director Barber-Eaton, is fresh from a WATCH-nominated performance as Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? 
 
The technical planning in this show is ingenious, culminating in the hilarious photo shoot at the end of Act I. First Eric Lund and Jason Vellon perform an extended but entertaining scene change to lightning and strains of In the Hall of the Mountain King. Then the ladies parade onstage in bathrobes, liquor up for courage and rally around each other figuratively and literally with oversized fans and blankets. They pose with strategically placed teapots, knitting, sheet music, fruit and flowers. Oh, and lots of pastries — no, not pasties.
 
The finished photos are then projected onto screens all around the theater to distract the audience while the actresses re-robe. Other high points include an a capella rendition of the club anthem, Jerusalem, by Benil, Clewell, Garretson, Pogonowski and Watko, and a tear-jerking scene in which thank-you letters from around the world rain down from the rafters.  
 
Tickets are selling fast, so don’t wait to buy yours. If you miss Calendar Girls, however, there are rumors that copies of the completed calendar used onstage may be available for purchase at Christmas 2017. 
 
 
By Tim Firth. Director: Debbie Barber-Eaton. Stage Manager: Andy McLendon. Set Designer: Edd Miller. Sound: Sarah Wade. Lights: Shirley Panek. Costumes: Fran Marchand and Paige Williams. Photographer: Amy Atha-Nicholls. Music director: David Merrill. 
 
Th, F, Sa 8pm, Su 2pm thru March 11 plus Su Feb. 26 7:30pm: Two hours and 40 minutes with intermission. 108 East St., Annapolis; $20, rsvp: www.thecolonialplayers.org.