Play: “Shirley Valentine”
Group: Stray Dog Theatre
Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue
Dates: May 6, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15
Tickets: $18-$20; contact 314-865-1995 or www.straydogtheatre.org
Story: Shirley Bradshaw is 42 years old. She is married to Joe, a blue-collar sort who expects his dinner on the table at the same time every night, and specific food each time. Thursday is steak night, so Shirley sets the unexpected in motion when she gives Joe’s steak earlier in the day to a dog which is owned by a couple of vegans, “extremist vegetarians” as Shirley puts it. Joe reacts angrily, giving the forlorn Shirley further pause as she ponders “how he became him and I became this.” Shirley lives a life of quiet desperation, caring for her husband and their tiny house in Liverpool, with occasional visits by their son and daughter.
Mostly, though, she spends time talking to her confidante, the kitchen wall, reflecting on her childhood as Shirley Valentine and wondering about a different life that might have been. When Shirley’s best friend, Jane, wins a vacation for two to Greece, Shirley impulsively and uncharacteristically joins her pal for a life-changing experience and an introduction to all manner of possibilities as she frees herself from “the weight of unused life.”
Highlights: Director Edward Coffield couldn’t have selected a more appropriate performer than Teresa Doggett to welcome us to the world of playwright Willy Russell’s charming and unpretentious heroine. Doggett looks the part of the amiable, sweet, somewhat invisible Shirley, and she fills the role with appealing wonder and unassuming longing. There are no histrionics here, simply a well-modulated and crisply delivered interpretation that reflects both Doggett’s command of the role and Coffield’s shrewd understanding of the play’s message.
Other Info: Doggett is a polished and ingratiating actress and she demonstrates her fine talents in this delightful performance. She easily slides from Shirley’s lower-class brogue, for example, into a fine patrician accent when Shirley mimics an acquaintance, reminding us of Doggett’s masterful touch. The two-act presentation moves briskly thanks to Coffield’s smooth guidance, no easy task considering this essentially is an elongated monologue. Doggett’s description, though, of her “Christopher Columbus,” a romantic Greek man she encounters on holiday, and the transforming experience of that meeting, is charming and captivating enchantment of its own.
Doggett contributed the telling costume design, which marks the difference in the two acts not only in locale but also behavior. L.D. Lawson’s set is simple but satisfying, incorporating a working sink and stove in the cramped Bradshaw kitchen, then covered in Act II to create the effect of a seashore Greek taverna, and all of it is handsomely illuminated by Tyler Duenow’s judicious lighting. Justin Been’s sound design is magical in its own right (a guitar version of The Monkees’ “Daydream Believer”), and Jay Hall’s props help underscore the mid-‘80s look and feel, although the play’s theme is timeless.
Artistic director Gary Bell once again has welcomed a guest director to Stray Dog with richly rewarding results. This “Shirley Valentine” is both enchanting in its scope and entertaining in its execution.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.