August 18, 2002


Shirley Valentine

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

(reviewed August 18; recorded for WFAE on August 21)

At 42 years old, Shirley Valentine sums up her life this way: “if you were describing me to me, I’d say it’s a joke.” Her children are grown, her husband values her cooking more than her company, and her most reliable confidante is the kitchen wall, to which she speaks with daffy abandon while sipping her evening wine. Shirley is ready to bust out of her confining little life, and is using the audience to garner courage. We feel we are an intimate part of her decision to realize her dreams, and in a small way we feel emboldened to realize our own.

The eponymous Shirley Valentine is to the stage what Danielle Steele is to the beach. It is sweet summer fare, with a glimmer of romance and a hint of redemption. This one-woman show is both funny and wistful, in a way that allows the audience to laugh wryly at shared disappointments. From her sunny kitchen, which has evolved from a figurative haven to a cage, Shirley shares the story of her evolution with an audience eager to empathize, sympathize, and cheer for her.

Shirley is played by Rebecca Koon, who is well known to local theatre-goers as the star of scores of plays, including last year’s “Wit,” as well as many feature and television movies. It is directed by Steve Umberger, and is a reprisal of a 1992 collaboration between the husband and wife team.

Koon immediately embraces the audience by treating us like the neighbor on the other side of the fence. It is a good strategy, because in a one-woman show, there’s no place to hide. Rather than adding characters to the script, the playwright has Shirley impersonate the people in her life. While Koon is amusing as Shirley’s nosy neighbor Gillian, and perfectly insolent as Shirley’s sullen daughter, it is Koon’s impersonation of the sexy Greek tavern owner Costas that best expresses the range of her talent.

While Koon’s acting ability spanned a number of character impersonations, it didn’t extend to the troubling accent she used for Shirley Valentine. Each sentence began in an Irish/British hybrid, and ended in southern. It was consistent, but disconcerting.

The play was written by Willy Russell, and was nominated for a Tony Award in 1989, which surprises me because in places the play seems more dated than that. There are several references to feminists as men-haters, a perspective that is not quite old enough to be historic, but is repeated enough to be tiresome.

Scenic Designer Anna Sartin and Lighting Designer Eric Winkenwerder pair up in Act II to create one of the most vibrant sunsets I’ve seen on a staged beach. The floating clouds and brilliant pink and turquoise sky appear in conjunction with the story of Shirley’s own colorful adventure. It’s an obvious coincidence, but lovely, nonetheless.

Shirley Valentine isn’t a pushy play; but it does give you a little nudge. Go out there and live all of the life you’ve been given. Dip your toes in the ocean. Drink a glass of wine in the country where the grape was grown. If Shirley can do it, so can you.

Lynn Trenning, August 18, 2002

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