I can say, with great confidence, that Park Square Theatre is currently presenting the best production of Calendar Girls we are likely to see in Minnesota in our lifetimes.
Park Square Theatre
Actor for actor, this cast of predominantly women is reminiscent, in strength and range, of the all-female cast the Jungle Theater assembled for February's Two Gentlemen of Verona. Of course, Calendar Girls is no Shakespeare — it's a feel-good summer show, and for its target audience, it absolutely hits the mark.
Based on the large and enthusiastic crowd on Wednesday night, it's clear this play has a special appeal to members of the demographic the story centers on: women who have achieved their mature years. Tim Firth's 2009 play is adapted from the 2003 film of the same name, inspired by the true story of a group of respectable British ladies who stripped down to shoot nude (albeit tastefully obscured) photos for a charity wall calendar.
Firth's play, which has stormed community theaters in the U.K. and is gradually making its way Stateside, is no great achievement as a work of drama, but it's passable, and well-stocked with rimshot laugh lines seemingly transported straight from the Borscht Belt to Yorkshire. ("I've reserved that view for only one man." "Will your husband mind?" "He wasn't my husband.")
This material could hardly be played better than it is by this cast, which has been packed by director Mary M. Finnerty with local luminaries. As spitfire Chris and the politely mourning Annie, respectively, Charity Jones and Christina Baldwin anchor the show. But it's Shanan Custer who most impresses. A Brave New Workshop alumna who's best known for let's-get-real comedy, she finds real vulnerability in the aptly named character of Ruth, a woman whose husband isn't quite like the upstanding stalwarts her friends have found.
The major downer of this otherwise buoyant production is the set by Michael Hoover, whose church interior is painted one of those shades of green that seems very Martha Stewart until you actually paint your walls with it, and suddenly you want to puke. That said, the expansive Park Square mainstage is otherwise well-suited to this boisterous ensemble show.
If you've read this far and you're thinking, "This sounds like the kind of play it would be fun to bring my [mom/grandma/aunt/sister/Red Hat Society] to," you're absolutely right. Bring them, and they'll have a blast. If they're nervous, tell them not to worry: All the naughty bits are safely tucked away.