Theater Review

Smashing good 'Shirley Valentine' at 2nd Story

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British playwright Willy Russell wrote his one-woman, two-act play back in the eighties, where it won many theatre awards and was even turned into a movie.

I saw Helen Reddy play the lead many years ago at Theatre-by-the Sea, where it was done on the proscenium stage and with Reddy’s British accent. (I couldn’t remember who the actress was, but Rhode Island’s go-to man when it comes to theatre, Tony Annicone, got the answer for me).

Director Mark Peckham has taken the play and set it in the round at 2nd Story, with veteran actress Joanne Fayan playing the 42-year-old wife and mother without the English accent but retaining some of the phrases.

Thank you, Mark, for making this smashing good play so accessible. And thank you, Joanne, for making Shirley Valentine such a joy to watch.

It is interesting that Russell wrote what many may consider a feminist play, until you realize that Shirley’s frustration with her dull, unappreciated, “unused” life could also apply to the male gender.

Shirley (Fayan) talks to the audience, sharing her innermost thoughts and feelings while preparing her husband’s dinner, folding the laundry, and drinking a bit of wine.

Her tale is a sad one told with smashingly clever humor and delivered with perfect comic timing. Her husband doesn’t appreciate her. She has a lousy self-image. Her best years are behind her.

And then her friend asks her to go on a two-week vacation with her to Greece. Shirley agonizes over whether or not to go. She has obligations. Her daughter has moved back in. Her husband needs her.

“We don’t know what we want,” she cries. “We do what we have to.”

She decides to go. She’s dressed, packed and has passport in hand, but she still hasn’t gotten around to telling her husband.

After a brief intermission, with scenic and lighting director Max Ponticelli lugging a bunch of “rocks” on stage, we find Shirley on a beach in Greece. Her friend has met a man on the plane and abandons her.

“I’m alone, but not lonely,” she says.

And then something happens that changes her life forever and has the audience cheering for her.

There is so much to like in this play, and it is because of the clever, funny, poignant writing of Russell; the direction of Peckham, who makes the play so personal by putting it in the round and having Shirley communicate with the audience; and Fayan, who has caught the heart and soul of this frustrated 42-year-old woman who wants and deserves more out of life.

There are a handful of characters in this play that we never meet, but thanks to writer, director and actor, we know them as well as if they were on stage. Now that’s good theatre!

“Shirley Valentine” is at 2nd Story Theatre in, 28 Market St. in Warren through April 2. Tickets are $25 (under 25 pay $25). Call 247-4200 for reservations.

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