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Penobscot Theater’s “Calendar Girls” brings light to seriousness

The Penobscot Theater in Bangor has begun showing a new feature called “Calendar Girls” this season. Showings began on Sept. 8, which also served as the first showing of the theater’s 43rd season. This production was originally written by Tim Firth and directed by Hamish McColl. The production had brought a successful turnout on its first try in September 2008 at the Chichester Festival Theater and has been off on several national tours and adaptations since.

They are not holding back this season either, they’re putting everything out in the open. “Calendar Girls” is a story of the ladies of Yorkshire, England who attended the Women’s Institute of Knapley. It starts off by introducing us to the ladies, who seem like a homely bunch of middle aged women who would be gathering for their weekly meetings to discuss knitting and baking. That is, until their characters reveal much more.

One of the women, Annie, experiences the painful reality of her husband’s battle with leukemia. It is when we discover this situation that we are exposed to the facade of a happy man slowly fading and putting his wife’s happiness and that of his friends before his discomfort. Overall, I found these early scenes to be one of the most sincere and true enactments of such a life.

When he finally passes, it is Annie who surprises the crowd with this uncanny fundraising opportunity. As her husband always said, “The last phase of the flower is the most glorious.” Isn’t this true of age too? In order to preserve her husband’s memory Annie decides to raise money to donate to the local hospital, in order to do so she convinces her friends to help expose their glory alongside her…in a nudist calendar.

Note that it is a “nude” calendar, not a “naked” calendar, there is a distinction. Simply, one is more tasteful than the other as well as slightly less revealing. For the girls, the creation of such a calendar proves to be a wild ride to say the least.

But instead of simply selling a few here and their at their local town fair, the girls go viral. People from all over come to get a glimpse of the wild Kaplan girls. Suffice it to say, things get a little out of hand. Not just on the selling front either, sometimes fame can get to your head and for these women it proved a true test of character.

This play served as a great relaxant during the school week. Its mix of comedy proved an enjoyable cushion to some of the more serious topics addressed in this play. The variety of characters the storyline enables us to experience provides us with many different opinions on how to handle each thing the girls face, such as death, cheating, and separation. And with everything they encounter we are also reminded that sometimes it just takes a good set of friends to help us make it through.

I recommend this production to anybody in need of a good laugh or who needs a pick-me-up after a rough week. Obviously, I do caution those with younger children to avoid bringing them to this type of show considering its light profanity, very serious subject matter, oh, and yes — the partial nudity (though nothing is shown directly, the potential and side views may be too much for some).

In addition to this production, the Penobscot Theater will be showing “A Murder for Two” this October through November. Later in the year they will also have “The Full Monty” as well as their New Year’s Eve Special, a New York vintage burlesque show. Be sure to check your calendars and mark these dates!

The last big news project they have is the “Buy a Chair” program. The theater is looking to replace their old chairs. For those who have ever gone to see a show, you must have noticed the colorful striped, glittery, and polka dot duct tape that coats their seats. With the “Buy a Chair” program they will be allowing people to purchase chairs either for themselves or for someone else. When you buy a chair it will be personalized with a plaque including the purchaser’s or intended owner’s name on it. The new chairs will be unveiled this upcoming summer.

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