Theatre Review

'Calendar Girls' is funny, heart-wrenching Community Players performance

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The Community Players third show of their 99th season is Tim Firth's delightful comedy "Calendar Girls," which is the true and "revealing story" of a women's group in England who decided to drop everything and raise money for a new settee for the hospital waiting room in honor of one's husband who died of leukemia. It is based on Firth's "Calendar Girls" movie from 2003.

The news of the "alternative calendar" charitable venture spread like wildfire and ultimately raised over a million dollars. The show isn't about nudity, it is about friendship, female bonding and how the calendar changes the ladies in this women's group while raising money for leukemia research. Pam Jackson directs the comic moments to win laughs for her talented cast as well as bringing the audience to tears at the appropriate moments, too. Especially poignant is his death scene in a wheelchair, which leaves not a dry eye in the house.

Even though it is billed as a comedy, there are many heartfelt moments mixed into the script. Annie is well played by Heather Carey, who gathers her girlfriends together for a good cause. Her scenes with her husband are heartfelt while her comic scenes with the girls lead to much laughter. The best scene is the calendar photo-taking segment with each girl doing their signature pose.

Annie and Chris' friendship is tested when Chris starts to believe her own press. Annie is calm and loving while Chris is rebellious and dramatic. They have what the other needs in their relationship. Karen Gail Kessler shines as Chris and the dramatic confrontation scene with Annie is stunning. Karen also has comic moments when she dresses suggestively at Christmas time and when she has sunflower petals for the other girls to wear. It is for a provocative TV promo that shocks the other girls.

The dedication scene tugs at your heartstrings as Chris finally does the right thing at last. David Mann plays the sympathetic role of John, Annie's ailing husband, while Richard Griffin does a great job as Chris' patient husband who is trying to run his flower shop alone while Chris pursues her dream of being onstage and in the forefront during the creation and presentation of the Calendar Girls.

The other gals do a great job in their roles, too. Susan Martin plays Ruth who has a boyfriend that might not approve of the calendar. Her character is nice all the time, giving into what the others need. Her best moment occurs when she confronts the gal cheating with her beau and tells her to (expletive) off. It received one of the biggest laughs of the show.

Prreeti Tiwari is terrific as Celia, who must deal with her golf friends’ gossip and once rode a Harley at 16 with no top on. Celia drinks a lot and is very sexy and alluring in the photo pose. Sylvia Bagaglio as Cora is a single mom who is a church organist and is worried what her daughter Ruby might think. Cora's father was a vicar and she had her daughter out of wedlock with a black American man, which was taboo back in those days.

Lynn Price is a hoot as Jessie, a retired teacher who resents the idea that older women are seen as doddering and uninterested in sex at their age. She has the best one-liners in the show and uses big buns over boobs for her photo pose. She embarrasses her former student Larry, who is taking the photos, making him guzzle booze when he discovers his ex-teacher is posing for the calendar. Larry is well played by Jacob David Santos, who makes his debut onstage in this show.

The leader of this women's group is the bossy, Marie who runs roughshod over the girls and cheats during the badminton game. This larger than life character is wonderfully played by the gorgeous statuesque brunette, Annette LaBonte. Other comic roles include Laurea Osborne as Brenda, the boring lecturer on broccoli, and Sue Staniunas as the snooty Lady Cravenshire.

So for a fun-filled comedy that will leave you laughing merrily all night long, be sure to catch "Calendar Girls" at the Community Players before time runs out. Also bring a tissue or two for the heartwarming scenes. Hard-working stage manager Jordan Ilyssa Angelo keeps things running smoothly both onstage and backstage throughout the entire show. This is the fourth show she has worked on with her mother, Karen Kessler.

“Calendar Girls” will be performed until Sunday, March 1 at The Community Players, Jenks Junior High School, 350 Division St, Pawtucket. Call 726-6860 or visit www.thecommunityplayers.org.

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