JUNE 7, 2018 – A few years ago, several women in Yorkshire posed for a nude calendar. Had she been there, Brookline actress Bobbie Steinbach might have joined them. “They had an amazing journey and a hard decision to make,” Steinbach said.
The Yorkshire women put together the calendar because they were raising money to supply a sofa for a hospital visiting room to honor the memory of one of their husbands, who had recently died of cancer. The true story was portrayed in a 2003 film, and then remade into a 2009 stage play written by Tim Firth and Juliette Towhidi called “Calendar Girls”, which is now playing at the Greater Boston Stage Company.
Steinbach can personally relate to the travails of her character, a retired teacher named Jesse. “We have a friend – an actor whose husband is sick with cancer. The theater community, like the Yorkshire women, is quite connected,” she said. A gifted actress with a long history of giving back to her community, Steinbach noted that as a Jewish woman, she relates to the characters’ desires to do good in the world.
She especially admires her character, Jesse, because they’re both funny. “She’s a feisty and funny woman who says what she means,” Steinbach noted. Steinbach started out as a comedy actress, and especially enjoys playing funny women.
“Calendar Girls” is a mixed bag. Theater-goers will enjoy the talented cast, and not the less than remarkable play. The true story offers a positive message about sisterhood and the power of taking a risk for a good cause. However, the play is too long – it’s over two hours long when it shouldn’t be more than an hour and a half. Despite admirable efforts by Nancy E. Carroll, a stellar actress who directed the play, and a strong ensemble of distinguished local actors, the script moves uncomfortably between comedy and drama.
Maureen Brennan beautifully conveys the vulnerability and heart of Annie, the widowed main character, and Sean McGuirk plays her terminally-ill husband with nuanced understatement.
Karen MacDonald captures the pluck and determination of Annie’s best friend Chris as she cares for Annie and makes the calendar a reality. High points of the play include McGuirk’s moving depiction of a man dying, and an explosive fight later in the play when best friends Annie and Chris dissect one another’s true motives. Bobbi Steinbach, meanwhile, gives insight and profundity to Jesse.
The play was helped by the talented costume and set crew. Gail Astrid Buckley’s eclectic costume design has just the right amount of whimsy, and Karen Perlow’s lighting helps add depth. Lisa Guild, the properties master, effectively and artfully placed calendar items like large buns, sunflowers, and yarn balls thoughout the stage.
In a short piece at the front of the program, director Nancy Carroll expresses the hope that audience members will love the play’s women as much as she does. The actors playing the women bring Carroll’s dream to life. Unfortunately, the overlong, meandering “Calendar Girls” does not prove as timely or loveable.
The Greater Boston Stage Company’s production of “Calendar Girls” will run in Stoneham through June 17. Call 781-279-2200 or go to gbsc.org. for tickets.