by Shirley Lorraine
Calendar Girls Bloom on Conejo Stage
To usher in Spring, Conejo Players in Thousand Oaks bursts forth with humor, pathos and the solidarity of friendship in their current production of “Calendar Girls.”
A delightful lightweight romp based on a real event, Calendar Girls centers around a stalwart and staid British women’s organization, the Women’s Institute Association, referred to as the WI.
Their fundraising goal for the present year is to raise money to purchase a settee for the currently dismal waiting area in a hospital cancer wing in honor of one of the members’ husbands who recently succumbed to the disease.
As members of the WI of Knapely Village in Yorkshire, the ladies are less invested in the traditional than they are in finding new ways to achieve the same ends, having more fun in the process. When the subject of their annual calendar comes up, members of the group opt to stray from the usual fare of churches, bridges and other landscapes. Instead, a handful of forward-thinkers decide to take a chance on a more intimate layout using themselves as models with props representative of the group’s standard focus of baking, knitting and gardening. Cleverly framed behind these items, the ladies bare “most” to the delight of all.
With the encouragement of a specific cause, the ladies engage a young photographer (David White) to make the project a reality. The success of the project ultimately surpasses their wildest dreams.
Although the action is set in England, director Deidre Parmenter opted to forego the accents which worked well for this ensemble. The cast delivers a spun-candy froth with emotional undertones that periodically bring the audience back to terra firma and the task at hand. The meaning behind the effort struck a chord with many in the audience.
Cast members include Lynn Thorne, Dana Weisman, Joanne Zahorsky-Reeves, Rita McCaffrey, Carla Ames, Mary Alice Brady as the “calendar girls”. Erin Fagundes, Robin Rassell, Jeff Ash, Daniel Krause, Elena Mills and Katie Gordon fill in the rest of the story, each adding flair to their roles.
All the participants embrace their characters with enthusiasm and spice that emphasize the realism they are portraying. The cast works as an ensemble, providing unique skills and body language, and each one adding to the storyline in both minor and major ways. Every character has at least one moment to shine in the spotlight, securing the feeling of unity and friendly rivalry that belonging to a women’s group can elicit.
The staging employs a complicated wheeled setting change involving a church meeting room interior and an outdoor garden with a view, a plethora of props and myriad costume changes which keep the actors and crew on their toes throughout.
This staging has added value in the contribution of original music by Kyle deTarnowsky which accents the scenes and mood changes nicely, filling in otherwise blank pauses providing a nice finishing touch to a solid and endearing production.
Calendar Girls runs through June 17 with performances Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. www.ConejoPlayers.org or (805) 495-3715.