Life change is real and positive in FST’s Shirley Valentine.
By Kay Kipling
What would you do if your kitchen—and your life—were so confining that you were literally stuck talking to the wall? Well, if you’re playwright Willy Russell’s winning heroine, Shirley Valentine, you’d take off for a life-changing trip to Greece that would help to recapture the real you, the one buried under years of routine, boredom and increasingly lowered expectations.
Shirley (Susan Greenhill in this Florida Studio Theatre production at the Gompertz Theatre) is a middle-aged Liverpool housewife, whose kids are pretty much grown up and whose husband expects exactly the same food with his tea according to the day of the week. As she speaks to us in this one-woman play, Shirley recalls early days of her life, in school and when first married, and dreams aloud about the seemingly impossible adventure of going to the Greek islands with her friend Jane for a fortnight. As she puts it, Shirley longs to “drink a glass of wine where the grape is grown” and also to make the most of what she considers the “unused life” within her.
Despite the suspicions of her daughter, her husband and her neighbor, Shirley doesn’t mean by that having an extramarital fling with a Greek native—although when she does in fact make it to Greece and meets a taverna owner named Costas, sparks do fly. She just wants to be the Shirley Valentine she once was, before she settled down and became wife and mother Shirley Bradshaw.
There’s lots of humor and warmth in this portrait. Russell’s hit play has had long life since first being staged several decades ago, and that’s certainly because while Shirley is a unique individual, we can all identify with her quest. It helps that Greenhill has some fine comic lines to deliver (“Marriage is like the Middle East,” she says at one point, “there’s just no solution”) and that’s she so effective at rendering the voices and personalities of her unseen family and friends.
It’s impossible not to like Greenhill and Shirley, and when we move from her tidy but stifling kitchen to the beaches of Greece in Act II, it’s not only the setting that changes; her physical and spiritual transformation is totally believable as well. It’s enough to make any of consider booking a flight right now.
Shirley Valentine is set to run through Aug. 9; call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org for tickets.