note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth
The stage is nicely set at Salem Theatre Company’s performance of “Shirley Valentine,” Willy Russell’s one-woman, two-act monologue-play, which won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 1988. And actress Lida McGirr of Concord is the delightful driving force at this cozy production.
The play premiered in Liverpool, England in 1986, when women were stuck in subsidiary lifestyles; but its relevance continues to resonate today.
McGirr effectively portrays Shirley Valentine Bradshaw, a frustrated, 42-year-old, British housewife who dislikes what she has evolved into, and has frequent kitchen conversation with the wall. But she also wins us over with her continuous eye contact, and we like Shirley. We identify with her. We remember the days when we, too, were adventurous, free-spirited, and wondering what happened to our former selves.
She recalls schoolgirl events, feeling rejected by her teacher and classmates. She dwells on her admiration of popular teacher’s pet-classmate, Marjorie Majors, who knew all the answers, except the one that only Shirley knew. She bittersweetly recalls how her teacher scorned her when she blurted out the correct response.
“I didn’t hate anything,” she says. “The only thing I hated was myself.”
She reminisces about meeting up with Marjorie in later years, after Marjorie’s limousine splashed Shirley and her packages while she waited, rain-soaked, for a bus.
Sharing tea and cakes in an elegant hotel with her stunning former classmate, Shirley is invigorated by their surprising conversation.
While preparing her husband’s meal of chips (French fries) and an egg - she gave his regular Thursday night steak to a vegan bloodhound, she giggles -, she has one of her regular talks to the wall. “Marriage is like the Middle East. There’s no solution,” she quips.
She reminisces about the girl and woman she was - carefree, fun-loving and daring. She wonders how she became this middle-aged, ignored, working-class housewife and mother of a grown-up son and daughter. “I always said when the kids are grown up, I’d leave him,” she says, referring to her boorish husband, Joe. “But then I realized I had nowhere to go.”
Shirley’s life takes a quick turn when her feminist, divorced, best friend, Jane, wins two tickets for a two-week holiday at a Greek island. After another demeaning incident with Joe, and her daughter, who puts her down for even thinking about going, Shirley suddenly decides to go.
Her recounting a lingerie-shopping trip and encountering her nosy neighbor, Gillian, is empowering. We cheer Shirley’s decision to pack her bag, write Joe a note, saying she’s going, and her anticipation to embark on her new adventure.
In the second act, Shirley lazes in the sun, on a sandy beach (kudos to set designer Ron Dion). She has let her hair down, figuratively and literally, has had a few adventures, and regained her self-confidence. “If I didn’t go back home, would anyone care?” she asks.
Not Shirley. “I fell in love with the idea of living,...The only holiday romance I had was with myself.” Not really, though. Because the audience fell in love with her.
McGirr’s accent waxes and wanes a trifle, but nobody notices. Her overall charming performance garnered a standing ovation.
BOX INFO: Two-act, one-woman award-winning comedy, written by Willy Russell, starring Lida McGirr, appearing at Salem Theatre Company, 90 Lafayette St., Salem, through June 7. Performances:Thursday, Friday, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. Tickets:$25; seniors, $20; students, $10. Visit www.salemthearre.com, or call Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111.