Story: Most days, Shirley Bradshaw puts on a face that she keeps in a jar by the door. She’s only 42 years old, but she feels more like 142. It’s the mid-1980s, and Shirley lives a humdrum existence in a working-class neighborhood in Liverpool, England, where John, Paul, George and Ringo got their start.
She and her husband Joe have two grown children, Milandra and Brian, who live away from home, a home where Shirley spends much of her time talking to the wall and referring to herself as Shirley Valentine, her maiden name. The wall generally is more responsive than Joe, who figures that since he is the breadwinner of the family he expects his dinner ready on the table when he arrives home. Ironically for a guy named Valentine, conversation with his wife isn’t a prerequisite, and romance is something viewed on the telly.
So, when Shirley’s best friend wins a trip for two to Greece and invites Shirley to join her, Shirley is intrigued. She’d like to go on holiday and snap out of her funk, but she doubts that Joe will let her. Besides, what will the children think? Or, for that matter, her busybody neighbor Gillian? Or will Shirley finally make a decision of her own?
Highlights: Playwright Willy Russell’s one-woman, two-act drama garnered some nifty prizes following its debut in Liverpool in 1986, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 1988 for its West End production as well as Olivier and Tony Award Best Actress nods in 1988 and 1989, respectively, for its West End and Broadway presentations.
Local actress Teresa Doggett delivered an affecting performance as the title character in a rendition four years ago at Stray Dog Theatre. Now, she reprises that effort in a charming and poignant portrayal at Dramatic License Productions.
Other Info: For whatever reason, Doggett fumbled numerous lines on opening night. Perhaps she was reflecting Shirley’s uncertainty about traveling abroad without Joe’s consent? In any event, her powers of persuasion were more than able to compensate for those occasional glitches and to win over the audience with an enchanting and heartfelt interpretation of the lonely housewife.
Lee Anne Mathews directs with a sure and steady touch, gently coaxing a convincing portrayal by Doggett that tugs at the heartstrings as the audience relates to her emotional isolation and “the weight of all of this unused life” that Shirley carries around.
For her part, Doggett easily moves between a number of characters besides Shirley, voicing Gillian’s snobbish superiority, Milandra’s whiny self-centeredness and Joe’s mindlessly cruel disdain, as well as the lusty kindness of the owner of a Greek taverna and others.
Matthew Stuckel’s scenic design is rather pedestrian, but it does feature a working stove that adds a bit of flair to the proceedings while Shirley fixes ‘chips ‘n’ eggs’ for her unappreciative husband. Doggett furnishes her own costumes in fine fashion, showing us Shirley’s mundane daily garb as well as some festive togs she sports while on holiday.
Peggy Knock’s props and set decoration suitably contrast Shirley’s drab Liverpool abode with the warm-climate taverna, Max Parrilla adds lights and Michael Perkins provides a mostly melancholy sound design that matches the subject matter in spirit.
Shirley Valentine is resigned to her fate and diligent in handling the duties that life has thrust upon her, an acceptance that Doggett precisely conveys. When she takes a chance, though, at ‘jumping off the roof,’ you’ll find that you’re likely to root for her safe, and happier, landing.
Play: Shirley Valentine
Company: Dramatic License Productions
Venue: Dramatic License Theatre, upper level, Chesterfield Mall
Dates: March 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16
Tickets: $18-$28; contact 636-821-1746 or www.DramaticLicenseProductions.org
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb