An Englishwoman’s life changes dramatically when she visits Greece in Willy Russell’s 1986, one-woman play, “Shirley Valentine,” presented by Center Repertory Company.
Shirley (Kerri Shawn), whose married name is Shirley Bradshaw, is the frumpy 52-year-old mother of two adult children. Her marriage to Joe has long since lost any sense of romance.
The possibility of change arises when her longtime best friend, Jane, invites her to go along on a two-week trip to a Greek island. Jane will pay for everything.
Shirley’s transition takes place in three scenes. In the first, she talks to her kitchen wall about her life and Jane’s invitation, which she’s not certain she’ll accept. As she talks, she drinks wine and prepares the eggs and chips that she will serve Joe for tea when he gets home.
In the second scene, she has decided to go to Greece and has been secretly preparing for three weeks. Now she’s waiting for Jane to pick her up, but she’s still ambivalent.
These two scenes make up the first act. The third scene takes place in the second act, when Andrea Bechert’s homey kitchen set has been transformed into a sunny beach in front of a Greek taverna.
That’s where Shirley relates her adventures, including an affair with a handsome Greek man, and makes what could be a life-changing decision.
Each scene is divided into smaller segments with descriptions of her childhood experiences, her children, her marriage, her preparations for the trip and subsequent events.
The first act can become repetitious as some segments seem prolonged, but the second is tighter and more effective.
As directed by George Maguire, Shawn’s timing is impeccable as she fully inhabits her character. She believably navigates through both humorous and sad moments.
In the end, Shirley comes to some significant insights about life, or at least her own life:
“We don’t do what we want to do; we do what we have to do,” she says. Later she says, “Most of us die before we’re dead.” Not Shirley.
It’s not surprising that Maguire and Shawn have worked so well on this production. This is the fourth time the two have done so for Center Rep. The first was in 1998-99, followed by 2001 and 2006.
Besides Bechert’s set, the production is enhanced by Scott Denison’s lighting, Michael A. Berg’s costumes and Jeff Collister’s sound, which includes some Beatles classics in the first act and sounds of the sea in the second.
Running about two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission, “Shirley Valentine” will continue through April 29 at the Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets and information, call (925) 943-7469 or visit www.centerREP.org.