Thursday, July 2, 2009

My funny valentine

When you're talking to the walls, it's time to take a vacation. The title character (and only character) in Willy Russell’s Shirley Valentine winds up doing just that. The 42-year-old London housewife is stuck in her dingy flat, stuck with her lump of a husband, stuck in a rut. Then — by sheer dumb luck — she wins two tickets to a vacation in Greece. She goes — and eventually stays until she's good and ready to come home. The fact that she goes at all is an accomplishment. People are stuck for a good reason. She's not used to making decisions — she's used to asking permission. She has to work up her courage. When she finds it, she keeps it. Of course, to a sexually frustrated British housewife, Greece means more than statues and scenery. Shirley finds romance, too. Not the permanent kind. Just the validation that she's still got it.

It's a one-woman play and very well written. The art of story-telling means more than having a story — it's figuring out how to tell it. This is structured like a first-person novelette. You could take away the stage and have Shirley telling you her story on a bare stage with a microphone like a stand-up comedian. It would still be interesting. The words on the page, alone, are interesting. The playwright tells a truthful, warmhearted story without being sentimental or manipulative. It's a crowd pleaser, but never cheats. It earns every ounce of laughter and applause. And, on the opening night performance, there was a lot of it.

Kate Alexander directs and Shirley Bradshaw stars. Brilliant direction, acting and material. Dead brill' as the Brits like to say. See it if you can.

It's the next best thing to a vacation in Greece.

Shirley Valentine
Extended through Aug. 8
FST Gompertz Theatre

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