BWW Review: Willy Russell's SHIRLEY VALENTINE Comes to 2nd Story Theatre
Willy Russell's SHIRLEY VALENTINE is running right now at 2nd Story Theatre in Warren, and I advise you to call them at once to purchase a ticket and them come back and finish reading my review. This is the second trip to Russell-Land for director Mark Peckham and 2nd Story; last year they scored with EDUCATING RITA. I think they're on to something. This time Russell has created the circumstance of a housewife, who, feeling shortchanged by life, has the chance to travel to Greece and see what more there might be.
In Shirley, expertly played by Joanne Fayan, Willy Russell came along with the "unhappy mature woman" who has played by the conventional rules of her social class only to come up empty. When we first encounter her, she is immersed in the mundane-making dinner for her unappreciative husband and talking to the walls, lamenting her "unused life." Shirley is everywoman/everyman-sensing there's more to life and not quite knowing how to get it. This show is done in the round, so when Shirley talks to the wall, she talks to us. Fayan cozies up to different audience members during the show, and we become complicit in her frustrations and in her plans for escape. She is all-alone on stage all the time, fearlessly living her life and looking for what's missing. O how we root for her.
It's not just that she's frustrated; Shirley is insightful and hilarious. Willy Russell knows how to write funny, he gives Shirley a lot of funny lines and Fayan makes good use of them all. When having dinner by herself in Greece, she marvels at how "a woman alone seems to upset people." And commenting on her travelling companions, she laments that "if they had been at the last supper, they'd have asked for chips." And while she felt trapped in her life, she does not hate her husband, realizing that he is trapped too. Shirley also has a bawdy side, willing to give her Greek lover's "olives a good pressing." This is a well-rounded character.
As usual, Max Ponticelli's set and Ron Cesario's costumes work so very well with the play's theme. Shirley abandons the housewifely apron for the silk robe, and we know she is transformed-"from cocoon came forth a butterfly," says Emily Dickinson. Same with the linoleum kitchen floor left behind for the rocky beach. And I don't know whether it was Peckham or Fayan who decided to eschew the British accent, but thank you.
SHIRLEY VALENTINE by Willy Russell runs Upstage at 2nd Story Theatre until April 2nd. Performances are at 7:30 Thursday, Friday and Saturday and Sunday at 2:30. Running time is one hour and forty-five minutes with an intermission. If you are interested in talking about the play, a post play discussion is scheduled after the matinee March 19th. Tickets are $35.00, $25.00 for anyone twenty-one or younger, and $20.00 for those who have the foresight to go on preview weekend (too late for this show). 2nd Story Theatre is located at 28 Market St., in Warren. The box office can be reached at 401. 247. 4200 or at www.2ndStoryTheatre.com. The venue has a nicely stocked bar and is handicap accessible with lovely accessible bathrooms on both floors.
Photo credit: Richard Dionne Jr.