Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA
Shirley Valentine by Willy Russell
Directed by Eric Hill. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
This production of "Shirley Valentine" is my sixth in the past dozen years, so I think I have a pretty good idea of what it can be, should be and sometimes isn't. This time around the one-woman play presents a few odd wrinkles. Shirley is the mother of two adult children, tends to be a bit frumpy and overweight and lives in the real world protected by fantasies of what her life might be. In actress Corinna May's case Shirley is a rare beauty confined to the ordinary life that has come her way. Now let me restate that for you: May is a beauty, and not the typical Shirley V., not in any physical way. Her Shirley is trapped in a life that she doesn't really deserve. Her fantasies of what life could have been are all achievable, though she has not pursued them. The thought of making things better, even for a while, are what drive her through the plot of this play. Her normal release comes from talking to her kitchen wall, her major appliances and occasionally to her daughter or a neighbor.
Our present Shirley isn't hurting for much in her life. Her row house has a new-enough kitchen (beautifully designed by Randall Parsons), her husband, Joe, keeps regular hours and makes all the money they need. This isn't much of a love-match; he is no Romeo and she no Juliet. Shirley has good friends she talks with and sees when she wants to. Her children live on their own so she doesn't have to do much with them to maintain a relationship. It's fifty sorts of normalcy wrapped up in plain paper without a fancy bow. Her best friend is about to go on a two week holiday in Greece and has bought her a ticket and booked hotel room and all Shirley has to do is buy a few nice things, pack her bags and get to the airport; a ride is being provided. The first act's two scenes are charming and sweet and in May's exquisite hands play out perfectly. Even Russell's "passport monologue," with its somewhat predictable ending gets its laughs, its heartfelt hums, it enlightening predictors in all the right places. The intermission (this play is in two acts, by the way) with a break feels just right when it comes.
Corinna May as Shirley Valentine in England; Photo: Jacey Rae Russell
Corinna May as Shirley Valentine in Greece; Photo: Jacey Rae Russell.
The second act is set in Greece where Shirley has shed her married identity and become Shirley Valentine, the woman she was before marriage. It turns out that her self-image has grown and she is once again the bright and attractive person she believed she was before Joe came into her life. Her wit and her sense of humor, along with her relationship with inanimate things are still part of her daily life, but now she needs less of them than before. May's face is now Shirley's for real and we can be in touch with what other people see in her. As good and true a performance as May gave in the first act, here she shines and reflects the Adriatic light perfectly. Shirley is ready to face her life eagerly, with perfect composure, addressing any problems head-on. She is now the total master of all measures. Under Eric Hill's direction every shift and change for Shirley throughout the play is very well-defined and played with complete honesty. He and May have seen this woman from the inside and from the ouside and both aspects of her come through in this very fine performance.
The technical team has rewarded May and Hill with more than just a great kitchen. Both sets transport us to Shirley's world where she and they are lit to perfection by Matthew E. Adelson May wears ideal costumes designed by Elivia Bovenzi Blitz. J. Hagenbuckle's sound design suits the show well. May, with the aid of dialect coach Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer, handles the Liverpool/Midlands accent with ease. It seems that in spite of true beauty on stage, this tale of an ordinary housewife's big step into humane loveliness has made the journey through wonderment to a wonderful evening of theatre
+ 09/03/2021 +
Shirley Valentine plays at the Berkshire Theatre Group's intimate Unicorn Theatre on Route 7 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts through October 24. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-997-4444 or go to their website at www.berkshiretheatregroup.org