Grin and bare it
In the last 12 months, three of my dear friends have been diagnosed with cancer. Two of them, thankfully, already are now cancer-free following treatments. One is, I am heartbroken to report, spending his final days in hospice. It’s been a crappy year, which is why Calendar Girls, Reno Little Theater’s current production, is particularly relevant, beautiful and important to me.
But Calendar Girls is anything but dark and depressing. Based loosely on a true story, it’s the tale of how a group of women from the local ladies’ society club rally around their friend, Annie (La Ronda Etheridge), when her husband, John (Bradford Ka’ai’ai), succumbs after a long battle with leukemia.
John had been a poet at heart, given sunflowers as gifts and believed fervently that women, like flowers, were most beautiful in their final phase. So to honor his memory and raise funds for the local hospital’s visitors’ lounge where John and Annie spent so many days, Annie’s friends from the Women’s Institute come up with an unconventional idea—they will pose nude for a calendar and devote the proceeds from its sale to the purchase of a new couch for the hospital.
Leading the effort is Chris (Moira Bengochea), Annie’s brash, bold best friend who uses the WI to escape from her dreary life with her dull husband. Following suit are Cora (Stacey Spain), the bedraggled WI organist and divorced mother of a rebellious teen daughter; Celia (Cathy Gabrielli), whose tendency to wear revealing clothes makes the calendar a natural fit; Jessie (Veronica Fraser), a retired schoolteacher; and Ruth (Julie Douglass), the prim and proper housewife who participates reluctantly.
The women only consent to the project when Chris explains that they won’t be naked, they’ll be nude. They’ll eschew the traditional ideas about older women—that they bake and sew and make jam all day—by doing those activities in photos without clothes on. Strategically placed props (a cake here, a mason jar there …) hide the “naughty bits.”
The calendar is an unexpected hit, but the attention the ladies draw from it has some unintended effects on their relationships with their families and each other.
The play doesn’t dwell heavily on John’s death or its aftermath. It’s mostly an uplifting story about the importance of friendships in difficult times. But I also found myself in tears more than once, so touched by playwright Tim Firth’s writing and the idea of honoring someone’s memory in such a lovely a way. Despite a few flaws—the actors’ difficulty capturing a Yorkshire accent, the occasional technical difficulty or blocking issue—the story is moving and sweet.
Reno Little Theater has extended the story into real life, partnering with photographer Anicia Beckwith to create a stunning, richly designed calendar, featuring images of 12 brave local women, most of them actors in this show. Ten dollars from every $25 calendar will be donated to Each One, Tell One, an organization that raises awareness about breast cancer detection.
Considering the January we’ve had so far, I think you’ll find Calendar Girls is the perfect way to warm your heart and take the chill out of a winter’s night.