Reviewed by Stephen Visser
Thursday night Fenton Village Players opened Tim Firth’s classic play Calendar Girls, a story built around a group of women who go the extra mile to raise money to honor the memory of one of their late husbands. The script is incredible leaving room for both laughter and tears many times throughout the night. Director Geno Essenmacher has offered up a charming rendition of this extremely relevant title.
We would like to applaud Fenton Village Players for producing Calendar Girls as part of their Main Stage Season. Many of our local community theatres often find they have to make the difficult choice between producing important theatre and producing well-attended theatre due to financial constraints. This season we are seeing many theatres take risks on important theatre and it’s extremely refreshing. Fenton Village Players has tackled Calendar Girls, Clio Cast and Crew will produce Avenue Q this season, and Flint Community Players continues to build endurance with their Ghostlight Series. Enough on that for now.
Essenmacher has assembled a strong ensemble to take on the powerful characters of this piece. Mary Powers plays the role of Chris Harper, the ambitious organizer, flawlessly. We see Powers’ Harper go through this tumultuous struggle between honoring a fallen friend, and being propelled into the dangers of the spotlight. She handles this struggle organically as she comes to terms with her own motivations. She has fantastic timing and comes off as extremely believable.
Pamela Mordie (Annie Clarke) plays the grieving widow effectively. Mordie’s Clarke must endure many breakdowns throughout the show (the news of her husband’s illness, his death, his memory), and although she generally comes off as authentic, her breakdowns do flirt with caricature at times. Overall, she handles the role well.
Judie Santo (Celia), Maryann Pietrzyk (Cora), Sandra Turner (Jessie) and Patty Bracey (Ruth) comprise the other women of the Women’s Institute Alternative Calendar. These actresses work extremely well with each other and had the entire audience in stitches during the, let’s say, revealing photo shoot scene. Santo captures the fun, golf-club socialite impressively. Her characterization is strong, and timing is impeccable. Pietrzyk’s Cora hilariously leads the cast in several singing experiments throughout the show. Turner’s Jessie is spot-on. I am sure that Turner has never met an audience she couldn’t command. She is starkly funny and could teach lessons on timing. (But most importantly, “No Front Bottoms”!) Finally, Bracey’s elastic facial expressions will impress everyone. A true veteran of the stage, Bracey brings an incredible element of comedy to this production. Together the troupe blossomed.
Also worth noting is Ron Barrett (John Clarke) and his portrayal of the dying husband. Barrett is strong and believable, with many beautiful, tender moments as we see him struggle through his disease. Unfortunately, one of these moments (where he passes away) was marred by the choice to have him just get up and leave after his death scene. We would like to have seen his departure handled a little less abruptly.
Overall, Fenton Village Players’ Calendar Girls is extremely entertaining. It has fun costumes, singing, and bread rolls. Did we mention the bread rolls? It is definitely worth the trip out to Fenton.
Calendar Girls continues at Fenton Village Playhouse, 14197 Torrey Road Fenton, MI 48430, through next weekend. For more info and tickets contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at www.fentontheatre.org