Director's Choices and Accomplished Cast Elevate HART's Calendar Girls - TribPapers

Director’s Choices and Accomplished Cast Elevate HART’s Calendar Girls

Photo by John Highsmith

Asheville – I’m a big fan of the 2003 film Calendar Girls, which was co-written by Tim Firth and is based on a true story, so I expected to like HART Theatre’s production of the 2009 play, also written by Firth. What I did not anticipate was just how much I absolutely, positively LOVED this show! Director Erin McCarson’s intentional and unpredictable choices, coupled with an accomplished cast and crew, took every aspect of this well-known story to the next level. Actually, I think it went several levels beyond.

A Hilarious and Poignant Plot with Unscripted Character Arcs

The plot is one we all know, even if you haven’t seen the film or play. A group of older, respectable women pose nude for a calendar to raise money. The hilarity of the script remains fully intact, with notable additions that still make me laugh out loud when they randomly pop into my head. In addition, there are notable, unscripted character arcs that are deftly and imaginatively shown through the clothing each person is wearing.

Impressive Costumes, Lighting, and Live Music Enhance the Production

The costumes were collaboratively chosen from their own wardrobes by the actors and McCarson, and the changes from beginning to end came through quite powerfully for me. Abby Auman, an artistic genius in lighting design, created a cinematic atmosphere at various points, offering the ideal ambiance for some of the show’s deeper and more poignant moments. And those moments were impressively effective, even mixed into a production that is mostly filled with humor. Another decision that wonderfully punctuated the highs and lows was the live music. Pianist Amy Entwistle (who also plays Elaine) and director Erin McCarson worked together to select the best songs, and I found them to be both surprising and perfect.

Photo by John Highsmith
Photo by John Highsmith

Heading up the predominantly ensemble cast is Leslie Christoffel. An interior designer by day, Leslie and McCarson collaborated on the marvelous set design. There is quite a bit of attention to detail, so when you go, be sure to take in as much as you can before the show.

The full cast should all be mentioned. They are Leslie Christoffel, Lauralee Bailey, Holly Caldwell, Kathy O’Connor, Elli Murray, Pam Elder, Vicki Mangieri, Amy Entwistle, Lynda Lewis, Debi Dupuis, Tom Bastek, Jay Howell, and Mark Kroczynski.

They made me laugh so much that I needed my inhaler multiple times. They brought me to tears so often and so fully that the front of my skirt was damp from wiping away tears. And during one scene, I found myself yelling encouragement to a character whose personal transformation was so inspiring to me that I almost leapt to my feet.

While the point of the play is often easily reduced to the titillation and camp of senior citizens posing for a nude calendar, director Erin McCarson leaned into the far more important themes and did it with grace and nuance.

The show became a statement on how society reduces females to their appearance. Our size, our choice of clothing, and our fat-to-muscle ratio define us against our will. It starts when we are still children and never ends.

We are judged and shamed for every part of our bodies, and when we start to get wrinkles, we are either dismissed as no longer attractive or told we “look good for our age.”

We spend most of our lives walking a tightrope of wanting to be pretty while also not wanting to be seen solely for how we look, until finally we are pushed off that rope because we have aged out of beauty and desirability.

It is a harsh and confusing perspective that McCarson zeroes in on masterfully. We see the value of these characters as they face their own insecurities. Insecurities that have been forced upon them by the world.

Do not pass on this show because you think you know it. Because you think it will be an easy and safe night at the theater. One that will not make you think or feel too much. It does not fit that description at all. It is far more. It is empowering, wildly funny, profoundly heartbreaking, and most of all, it is a show that you will take with you. One you will continue to think about and laugh about. One that will keep inspiring you long after you’ve thrown away your ticket stub.

Experience HART Theatre’s Calendar Girls

HART Theatre’s Calendar Girls runs through July 2nd, with Thursday-Saturday evening performances and Sunday matinees.