Umpqua Actors Community Theatre will bring one of the fastest-selling British plays in theater history to the Betty Long Unruh Theatre when “Calendar Girls” opens Thursday.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun, audiences will love it. There is so much in it,” director Marianne Jones said.
Based on a true story, the play follows a heavily female cast as it embarks on a rather unorthodox fund raiser.
The group is a member of an organization known as the Women’s Institute. When one member, Annie, loses her husband to cancer, she and her best friend Chris decide to raise money for a new settee for the local hospital. They manage to convince four fellow Women’s Institute members to pose nude with them for an alternative calendar.
They are no strangers to charity work, as the basis of the Women’s Institute is to bolster involvement in the community, but the unconventional aspect of this project creates conflict with the higher ups in their organization. With the help of a hospital orderly and an amateur photographer, the group create a successful calendar that garners vast media attention.
“It’s a comedy, but its really about how you deal with cancer in your family, with your friends,” said Jeanine Kabrich, who plays Ruth.
Each character brings their own personality: widow Annie (Wendy Weikum) is sweet and caring; her best friend Chris (Chris Hanks) is boisterous, gregarious and a bit of a troublemaker; Jessie (Patricia Duerfeldt) is an opinionated retired school teacher that most of the group falls in line behind; Ruth (Jeanine Kabrich) is described as a brown-noser struggling with an unfaithful spouse; Cora (Sylvie Combie) is a single mother with her own rebellious streak; and Celia (Angela Sulfridge) is an enigmatic, posh trophy wife that has a love/hate relationship with her life of pomp and circumstance.
“It’s almost like a journey of life for each one, each of the characters grow through it and change,” Sulfridge said.
Other cast members include Jere Bartley as Marie, another member of the Women’s Institute who is the first to balk at the calendar idea; Trish Fletcher as Lady Cravenshire, the head of the Woman’s Institute; Tolley Evans as Annie’s husband John; Dave Burns as photoshoot director Liam and amateur photographer Lawrence; and David Jones as Chris’s husband Rod.
“We’re an ensemble, there are no small spots,” Sulfridge said. “I mean, everybody is unique and everybody is important and every role that you have — whether its on the stage, behind the stage, in the booth — everybody is important.”
Each cast member brings abundant experience to the stage, some with over 40 years of acting to their name, but this will be Kabrah and Combie’s first play with UACT.
“This play is very near and dear to a lot of us for a lot of reasons,” Jones said. “But primarily, since it is about cancer and raising money for cancer, both Mary and I and Jere we’re all cancer survivors, so that was one reason why this was so appealing. Also, it’s just a darn good read and it’s really funny.”
The production opens at 7 p.m. Thursday and will continue Friday, Saturday and Sunday until June 23. Jones recommends a PG-13 rating.
“It throws the f-bomb at the end,” Jones said. “You can’t even say there is partial nudity, but someone in the audience is going to think they see something, and they don’t. There is nothing to see, because they are very well covered. We made sure of that. So yeah, in that respect, it’s adult friendly.”