“Calendar Girls” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ January 25, 2016


Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

Phoenix Theatre is a master of musical theater productions.  They consistently deliver fine stagings of new and old shows and both classics and contemporary hits.  Once each season, PT presents a non-musical production on its Mainstage.  Often these plays are the company’s least impressive offerings.

The very British comedy, “Calendar Girls” by Tim Firth is this season’s show.  Based on the popular 2003 English film, there’s nothing wrong with the stellar cast of mostly women gathered by director Elaine “E.E.” Moe.  But the draggy play fails to provide the cast with roles of substance or dimension as it gives voice to the British Women’s Institute that was established in 1915 to revitalize rural communities but is now Britain’s largest voluntary organization.

During its 100 years, it has accomplished many valuable projects but “Calendar Girls” focuses on a true but trivial fund-raising campaign where small town women hope to raise money with a nude calendar featuring the members.  The play spends too much time dealing with nudity and whether these prudish ladies are willing to pose sans clothes.  One-by-one, they bear all for the cameras and audience but it is discreet nudity.

Why Phoenix Theatre mounted this play about English prudery where the British dry humor fails to illicit much laughter is a mystery.  The meandering piece makes each woman a cardboard character as well as a stereotypical nerd so it’s not an attractive or amusing depiction of contemporary women.

“Calendar Girls” takes place in a rural town without an iota of sophistication or wit.  The story plods on for two-and-a-half hours trying to make its shallow and predictable point.  Moe’s pedestrian staging doesn’t give the play much spunk further negating the confusing selection.

Even though the performers British accents come and go, the cast works its extensive acting chops off trying to give these pitiable characters meaning but even these talented players can’t do the impossible.  Here are the wonderful local performers and the trivial people they portray.  Johanna Carlisle plays Celia but this wonderful local star has had many better roles just this season.  Patti Davis Suarez’s Jesse is a stylishly sophisticated woman but nothing else.  Cathy Dresbach is frumpy frau Ruth, Maren Maclean Mascarelli is nose-in-the-air Marie, Debby Rosenthal shines as Lady C and Brenda, Debra K. Stevens is the rumpled Cora, Gabrielle Van Buren is the feet-on-the-ground Elaine, Shari Watts is a stately Annie, and Elyse Wolf is organized Chris, the fund-raising leader.

“Calendar Girls” is a minor diversion but the production isn’t very British and it isn’t very funny.  It continues through February 7.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: C

One Response to ““Calendar Girls” – Phoenix Theatre”

  1. Chinee said:

    Jan 31, 16 at 16:53

    I very much disagree with this review. I saw the play last night and enjoyed it tremendously. To call the plot a “…true but trivial fund-raising campaign” really misses the point and certainly the sentiment of raising funds to beat leukemia. Why would this reviewer be so ho hum about that? It’s a great story brought to life by a talented group of men and women. I think the staging was great, making a lot out of a physically small stage. The audience laughed at the subtle jokes, gasped at the nudity, and applauded the victorious moments of the characters. It was more than a “minor diversion” for me. I always love going to the theatre and getting away from the gore and the over-stimulation of the TV or the movie screen to be in the same room with artistic human beings creating emotion out of dialogue and a few props. Fantastic job Calendar Girls!!