In a manner of speaking, the adventuresome actresses of Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s “Calendar Girls” grin and bare it — playing British women of a so-called “certain age” and type who, as a fundraising effort for a worthy cause, model for a suggestive calendar that also raises eyebrows and causes quite a stir.
In a more common sense, the cast grins and then bears with it, too — as Tim Firth’s overly long and drawn-out comedy (adapted from his script for a 2003 Helen Mirren movie) eventually veers into rather maudlin “Steel Magnolias” territory.
The show features Courtenay Collins and Jennifer Levison as best friends Chris and Annie, members of the Yorkshire chapter of the Women’s Institute, a club that regularly meets for tai-chi classes, seasonal festivals and baking competitions, and periodic lectures on everything from broccoli to tea towels. The others are portrayed by Meg Gillentine (as the fashionable Celia), Alex Bond (the feisty Jessie), Bethany Irby (the free-spirited Cora) and Vicki Ellis Gray (the frumpy Ruth).
(They’re equally competent without exception, but it’s particularly good to see that Irby is back on the scene, following a five-year teaching stint in India. And Gray, with her arm in a sling after a backstage mishap during a preview performance, warrants a special note for her show-must-go-on gumption.)
Much to the chagrin of the group’s uptight leader, Marie (the superb Joanna Daniel), they decide to break from tradition with their latest annual calendar. Instead of depicting the usual local landscapes or architecture, the women endeavor to finance a memorial settee in a public garden for Annie’s dearly departed husband, John (Robin Bloodworth), by bravely letting go of their various defenses — and most of their clothes.
The indisputable high point in director Heidi Cline McKerley’s production is that frolicking photo shoot. Striking a quick succession of individual poses, her six co-stars display an uninhibited enthusiasm, while simultaneously covering themselves with strategically positioned flowers or pastries in all the right places. (You go, girls!)
But the result is that “Calendar Girls” basically climaxes too early. The ensuing second act is heavy on late-breaking back stories about this one’s teen pregnancy and that one’s philandering husband, this one’s failing business or that one’s cancer-stricken mother. It’s odd but probably just as well that no mention is made of any of the women representing the other half of the calendar year, considering the show is nearly three hours long as it is.
Although some of the accents are better than others, between Firth’s overlapping banter and the inherently poor acoustics of the Roswell Cultural Arts Center space, a bit of the dialogue is garbled and hard to decipher.
In addition to Stephanie Polhemus’ attractive scenic design, there are a couple of nice stylistic touches: In one, as the women’s fan mail starts pouring in, their letters trickle down from above the stage; in another, sunflowers rise and bloom from beneath it.
Such memorable scenes are few and far between, but in the end, like those calendar shots, they don’t really add up to anything all that revealing.
Through Oct. 4. 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 4 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $30-$40. Roswell Cultural Arts Center, 950 Forrest St., Roswell. 770-641-1260, www.get.org.
Bottom line: Wears thin as time drags on.