by MEREDITH M. GRIFFITH and
COLLEEN SMITH ARMSTRONG
It’s all about girl power.
A group of island women are starring in an Actors Theatre production of “Calendar Girls” at the Grange.
“It’s about appreciating the beauty of people at every age, and it’s about the power of friendship,” says actress Melinda Milligan.
“Calendar Girls” will open on Friday, Sept. 11 and run for three weekends. Tickets are $10 at Darvill’s Bookstore, online at www.orcasactors.com or at the door.
“Calendar Girls” ran at the Chichester Theatre Festival and became the fastest selling play in British theatre history. The play is based closely on the film of the same name and sports a cast of 10 women and four men.
When Annie (played by Suzanne Gropper) loses her husband John to leukemia, she and best friend Chris (Bev Leyman) resolve to raise money for a new settee in the local hospital waiting room. They manage to persuade their friends to pose nude with them for an “alternative” calendar, with a little help from hospital porter and amateur photographer Lawrence (Kelly Toombs).
The news of the women’s charitable venture spreads, and the press soon descends on the small village of Knapeley in the Yorkshire Dales. The calendar is a success, but Chris and Annie’s friendship is put to the test under the strain of their fame.
“This play means a lot to us because it tells a real story,” Leyman said. “We struggle with real people’s problems, like how to maintain relationships, or defining what it means to be a friend.”
The actresses visited an all-nude Korean spa in Lynnwood together before beginning rehearsals for the show, and said the experience fostered an appreciation for beauty of the human body in all its various renditions. The women have also created a calendar that will be for sale.
Alisa Chauhan, visiting this summer from the London area, has served as the cast’s accent coach.
Bailey Sande, at 23, is the youngest cast member. She says the play is spicy and feisty; she’s been struck by the number of major issues addressed in the play, including age, sickness and defying racism.
“I’m enjoying the transcendental experience of defying the idea that ‘age is beauty’,” she said. “The play is chock full of really beautiful, enlightening perspectives; the show has depth and a lot to walk away with.”
Every cast member said they were astounded at the close, affectionate bonds that have grown among the cast members.
“This cast is amazing,” raves Holly King. “The play is cutting edge, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it. I love the humor and the enthusiasm. We are all in, and the best part is, I get to have a tattoo … God bless all the husbands, because they found out we were going nude after the fact.”
Adds Sande: “There’s no nakedness; just a tastefully done suggestion of nudity.”
Lesley Liddle said, “It’s a giant stretch, as a person who is quite modest … and the last time in my life I will stretch in such a way. I was quite hesitant [to take part in the play], but I didn’t want to miss out on the camaraderie. It’s discreet. We are making every attempt to be artistically discreet. It’s stretching everybody in happy ways.”
For Gropper, what stands out is the play’s tenderness.
“The cast ranges in ages from 23 to 80,” she said. “It is joyous to interact with women who have lots of experience and who have very little. They are lovely to work with and we all feed off each other. There is a lot of laughter and silliness in the show, but underneath it all, there is a connection we have with each other that really shines.”