The Feb. 6-15 Ghost & Spice Productions presentation of British playwright Willy Russell's wonderfully witty and poignant 1989 one-woman show, Shirley Valentine, was an absolute delight. Produced by Jordan Smith, directed by Rachel Klem, and starring Lenore Field, Shirley Valentine focuses, as Russell did in Educating Rita, on a frustrated and unfulfilled working-class woman trying to escape her dreary destiny as a domestic drudge, a woman on the edge whose glorious youthful dreams of education and travel only mock her current predicament.
Shirley Bradshaw, nee Valentine, is a mousy 42-year-old Liverpool housewife and mother of two grown children. Stuck in a humdrum marriage in which she mainly serves as chief cook and bottle washer for her male-chauvinist-pig husband Joe, and tired of waiting for her kids to straighten up and settle down, Shirley is already talking to the wall, and on the verge of giving up entirely, when her girlfriend Jane buys them both a ticket to Greece for an extended Girl's Night Out — an exciting fortnight — beside the beautiful Mediterranean.
When she goes to Greece at the end of Act I, without telling Joe in advance, Shirley declares her independence. What she does in Greece, and how it rejuvenates her spirit, is the subject of the second act.
Local actress Lenore Field gives a heartfelt and compelling performance as Shirley Valentine, adopting an authentic Liverpool accent and literally evolving right before the audience's eyes from a downtrodden housewife, stuck in a gigantic rut, to an independent woman unwilling to sacrifice all her girlhood dreams and ambitions merely to be an unappreciated slave to the whims of her husband and children.
Fields' bravura performance — and director Rachel Klem and assistant director Eszter Julian's sensitive staging — transformed the playing area in the lobby of the downtown Durham, NC-based Wellness Partners in the Arts building into the various stations of Shirley Valentine Bradshaw's inspiring odyssey toward self-fulfillment and self renewal. Shirley Valentine was easily one of the finest shows so far in 2004.
Ghost & Spice Productions: http://www.ghostandspice.com/season/shirley_valentine.html [inactive 9/04] . Wellness Partners in the Arts: http://www.wpadurham.com/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=4530.