The secret to seductiveness is to show just enough skin to set the mind of one’s quarry whirring and let imagination do the rest.
“Calendar Girls,” the McLean Community Players’ latest production, offers the chance to see some lovely ladies in partial degrees of undress, but its real attraction is the sense of camaraderie, rebellion and tenderness shared by those who pose.
The play, directed by Bob Sams and set in the village of Knapeley in Yorkshire, England, starts off with members of the local Women’s Institute performing tai chi. The session descends into silliness when ringleader Chris (Diane Sams) begins making up ludicrous poses.
Other group members include retired teacher Jessie (Kathryn Johnston), organist Cora (Shayne Gardner), wallflower Ruth (Jennifer Greene), spunky Celia (Liz Weber) and Chris’s best friend, Annie (Samantha David).
After Annie’s beloved husband, John (Frank Gorrell), dies of leukemia, the women decide to raise money to buy a memorial settee to place in the hospital where he was treated. Chris hits upon the idea of having the group pose nude for a calendar while doing baking, knitting and other innocuous tasks.
The play’s best scene is the one everyone eagerly anticipates. The women disrobe and hide their private parts behind strategically placed pastries, flowers, blankets and other objects.
Some of the women approach the task with gusto, while others require coaxing or heavy inebriation. The choreography here is done well, with players taking turns barely obscuring each other’s figures.
“At my age, these are as high as my teacups go,” Annie retorts to someone who critiqued her pose.
The calendar becomes a runaway hit, but as Chris’s force of personality drives the other members toward success, she alienates them by becoming arrogant and tone-deaf. The ensuing media circus leads to a dust-up between her and still-grieving Annie.
Plays need antagonists and that role is served here by prissy, uptight, domineering Marie (Carole Preston), head of the local Women’s Institute. She’s trying to impress a higher-up, portrayed by Anne Hilleary, who becomes properly discombobulated when stumbling upon the photo shoot.
Marie comes to loggerheads with the impudent, free-spirited group of women, who feign dying of boredom at the prosaic speakers she collars to entertain them. Her vicious, personal take-down of Chris is dreadfully spiteful.
Diane Sams brings substantial verve to the leading role of Chris and receives fine support from the other women in the circle.
Michael Schwartz takes two worthy turns in the play, serving as a shy photographer for the calendar shoot and then as a jaded, blunt television producer.
Gorrell imbues John with kindness, humor and strength as he faces his demise.
The set by Bill Glikbarg is pretty straightforward, but has a nice floral touch at the end in remembrance of John. Set dresser and properties manager Claire Tse provides the necessary items to shield the players’ nudity.
Because of the partial nudity and occasional profanity, the play is for ages 17 and older.
A few of those posing have the physiques of regular gym-goers, but most have ordinary figures. This is perfectly fine because, as anyone who’s gone to a nude beach will attest, the novelty of all that bare skin wears off quickly.
The play, which will raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, isn’t really raunchy, but instead celebrates the loveliness of the female form in its many varieties – and the friendships that extend beyond appearances.
“Calendar Girls” runs through Oct. 3 at the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theatre, 1234 Ingleside Ave. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 to $20. For more information, call (703) 790-9223.