MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV)
Why would women of a certain age pose nude for a calendar?
For a cause, of course.
And so it happens in “Calendar Girls,” a unique play presented by The Masquers, Inc. that is running for two more performances in Capitol Civic Centre.
Just so you know now, there’s no direct nudity in this production, just suggestions of it. It is kind of fun to watch the maneuverings and manipulations that director Patrick Schamburek and the creative team contrived for players to be “nude”… but not really.
Performances have the aura of meaning for the cast members, primarily the six women portraying members of a quaint club that exists in England. Called WI, the club never is explained in the play, but what it does is enacted. WI is akin to the American 4-H, though for women. Activity, involvement and betterment are in the bloodstream of WI.
Written by Tim Firth, “Calendar Girls” is a glimpse at British rural village culture and way of life seldom played out on an American stage. The characters are ordinary people. Though the characters are British, accents are not part of this production.
The setup for the calendar posing – and the deeds themselves – take place in Act I. All the hand-wringing and debate and discussion and preparations for the shoot and creation of the individual and well-orchestrated poses would seem like plenty to fill a play. But there’s a second act, and it drifts to the conclusion. The script is loosey goosey – unusually structured. The audience learns more about WI and the personalities of the characters before there is resolution.
The story is this: Annie’s husband is diagnosed with leukemia. Annie’s friends in WI gather around her trying time. The fullness of their feelings leads to the nude calendar. In the second act, free-spirited Chris and Annie have some push and shove involving the propriety of shooting a TV commercial that would exploit WI.
Powerful moments dot the play. Key ones involve experienced players Ellen Peronto as Annie and Kathy Kowalski as Chris. While the story of Chris and Annie includes empathy, bitterness arises when Chris lets her glory-seeking ego intrude on the pure goal of the calendar to raise money in the memory of Annie’s husband. These scenes are well played.
Percolating along as club members are Catherine Egger as fashionista Celia, Darcy Gravelle as scaredy-cat Ruth, Corrie Skubal as free-spirited Cora and Claran LaViolette in school-teacherly Jessie.
A key scene is delivered with zest by Mary Kaufmann as Marie, a snooty sort who gives Chris what-for.
Dean Sleger clicks as Lawrence, the photographer who fusses and fusses and gets the job done.
Especially digging into a role is Jim Liddle as Annie’s husband, John. Jim Liddle’s performance has all the signs he is drawing on what he has seen many a time in life. Very sensitive.
The production includes extra efforts. Costuming for the women involves individual special touches for the six women and a unified, black gown look (in the photo above) along with a made-up configuration of strategically placed sunflowers. Stage work involves an overall church aura – arched windows and a somewhat amazing beam work at the top. The performance floor is specially made along geometric lines and placed about a foot above the existing stage.
One interesting thing is “Calendar Girls” is based on a true story. The cast taps into the regular-folks feel of the characters.
Creative: Playwright – Tom Firth; producer – Paul Hacker; director – Patrick Schamburek; stage managers – Pete Van Laarhoven, Wendy Van Laarhoven; set designer – Philip Jindra; set decorator – Missie Wendorf; properties – Roger Bennin; costume design – Claran LaViolette; make-up design – Susan Quinn-Mrotek; hair design – Mary Ann Knier; master builder – Tom Bartelme; sound technician – Don Bruechert; lighting design – Jake Jaquart
Cast (as listed in program):
Rod – Roger Bennin
Celia – Catherine Egger
Ruth – Darcy Gravelle
Liam – J Gravelle
Elaine – Mary Hamachek
Brenda Hulse – Chris Jenswold
Marie – Mary Kaufmann
Chris – Kathy Kowalski
Jessie – Claran LaViolette
John – Jim Liddle
Annie – Ellen Peronto
Cora – Corrie Skubal
Lawrence – Dean Sleger
Lady Cravenshire – Ann Wolf
Running time: Three hours
Remaining performances: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27-29
NEXT: “The Foreigner” by Larry Shue, May 7-9.
THE VENUE: Renovation and upgrade projects carried out in 2019 are virtually complete, including new seating (with drink holders in the arms), technical upgrades and added public spaces. Located at 913 S. 8th St. in downtown Manitowoc, the 1,003-seat West Auditorium of Capitol Civic Centre features classically oriented styles befitting its 1921 origins as a combined vaudeville and movie palace. New lighting in 2019 brightens the auditorium considerably. Two large, tiered, tear-drop clear crystal chandeliers grace shoulders on each side of the proscenium stage. All around is ornamentation – Corinthian capitals on faux columns, leaf-and-scroll braces beneath balcony and step-stage box seat areas, gold and red paint highlighting swirls and/or patterned geometric designs amid the cream-colored wall features. The ceiling is coffered. The fringe around the stage is ornate, with the stage curtain regal red with the Capitol Civic Center’s signature overlaid C’s standing out in the middle of the top hanging, which includes six tassels. Distinctive in the theater is the mezzanine, which is tucked far under the balcony and above the rear seats of the main floor. The lobbies (the second level new in 2019) and meeting areas complement the rest of the theater in design. One area includes photo displays of stars and prominent personalities, including Charlton Heston and his wife, Two Rivers native, Lydia Clark Heston. The “Jewel on the Lakeshore” is home to 14 community arts, music and theater groups. Designed by local architect William J. Raueber and built by the local George Brothers, Arthur and John, the theater opened June 16, 1921, at Ascher Brothers’ Capitol Theatre under a lease agreement with the Chicago-based Ascher movie and vaudeville house operators. The current name dates to 1987, following restoration with the lead grant coming from the Ruth St. John and John Dunham West Foundation, Inc.
THE PEOPLE: John West was president of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Co. The foundation that bears the Ruth and John West name supports and fosters the arts, with the Rahr-West Art Museum another significant site in Manitowoc.