When St. Petersburg actress Susan Gill learned production rights were available for the comedy-drama Calendar Girls, she did what a girl's got to do.
"I approached Tom Costello (of West Coast Players) and told him if he would direct this play, I would lose 10 pounds and audition," said Gill, knowing full well the role involved partial nudity on stage.
She lost 35 and landed a lead.
Tonight, she will star as Annie, a woman who loses her husband, John, to cancer — and her top for a good cause. (The role of John is played by her by real-life husband T.J. Gill. This is the 27th play the couple has performed in together.)
The play is based on the true story about a group of ladies from Yorkshire, England, members of the Women's Institute charity club, who set out to raise money to buy a settee for the hospital's waiting room. Best friends Annie and Chris manage to persuade their peers they can raise more funds by posing for an "alternative" club calendar. The subsequent publicity makes the calendar a huge success, and they end up building a whole wing.
Barring a wardrobe malfunction, audience members shouldn't find themselves in a blush. Everything is done tastefully and discreetly, said Gill, who is of retirement age.
"Still, it takes a lot of bravery for us to —- as they say in the play — 'whip off our bras,'" she added.
During the on-stage photo session for the calendar, nipples are disguised with a variety of items — in Gill's case, teacups.
When she is told to raise her teacups higher, her character, Annie, retorts, "At this age, this is as high as my teacups go."
Anticipating that Tim Firth's play would be a huge hit, West Coast Players has scheduled the production to run for four weekends.
The theater company is offering its own version of a 2016 Calendar Girls calendar ($15 each) with proceeds shared with Cancer Patient Support Services at Morton Plant Mease hospitals. The calendar features the 11 actresses in the play, ages ranging in the 20s to 90s.
"This is the first time Calendar Girls will be seen in the Tampa Bay area," director Costello said. "We're getting an audience of subscribers who really don't want the same old thing; they are looking for something different.
"We like to do theater on the edge."
Reach Terri Bryce Reeves at firstname.lastname@example.org