DIRECTOR GEORGE MAGUIRE AND KERRI BRING A FLAWLESS VALENTINE TO THE WALNUT CREEK STAGE AND
THE GREECE SUNSET IS ALWAYS MESMERISING
The potatoes are being cut and fried once again as Shirley prepares her famous “chips and eggs” for her husband. The smell from the freshly cooked meal fills the Margaret Lesher stage at the Center Reps encore production of SHIRLEY VALENTINE now on stage through April 29th. The amazing Kerri Shawn is back for the 4th time performing as the Liverpool housewife who dreams about a trip to Greece. Written by Willy Russell, and directed by the accomplished local favorite actor/director George Maguire. The one woman play was a hit in London and New York in 1991 and this creative team at the Center Rep started their VALENTINE adventure in 1998. Shirley speaks directly to the audience and draws you into her story. Maguire admires Shawn’s distinguished talent, “Kerri is never acting - she grounds a role in real people doing real things. There’s truth, honesty, heart, charm, there’s also increased resonance, We’re older,” “we are here 19 years later since we first began bringing this story of a woman's deep desire to experience and change back to the Lesher Center,” says Maguire.
It has been 13 years since Kerri has last performed Shirley and she says she is different now “I’m not the same person, I’ve evolved, plus I’ve traveled to Greece. I went where they filmed the movie,” Kerri commenting about the current issues “with the ‘MeToo movement’, it’s entirely relevant. It’s a woman reclaiming her life; it’s about all of us. It’s also about men who carry waste around, about life bogging us down - I think it’s fantastic and important that women and men speak out. It’s authentic, vital and I believe change will happen.” Both Kerri and Maguire create a SHIRLEY VALENTINE that still is provocative, important and who can still whip up a great "chip and eggs", then transport her audiences to Greece.
To her wonderful kitchen wall she says “Shirley, you are one silly bitch. You’re 42 not 22. You’re just another stupid women looking for an adventure. And the time for adventure is over.” Shirley is used to talking to the kitchen wall “Marriage is like the Middle East. There’s no solution.” Her husband pays her no attention unless his dinner isn’t on the table the moment he walks through the door, and so the running monologue she delivers while preparing his chip and egg is the closest she comes to a conversation. Her close friend Jane has invited her on holiday to Greece, but of course she’s feels she can’t go. Her husband would have no-one to cook his dinner or do his laundry. But as she cooks the chips, she realises that all she wants is to drink a glass of wine by the sea, and live her life like she wants.
The three act play is not only funny, it is also moving. Playwright Russell holds up familiar aspects of life for inspection and enjoyment. He is an instinctive feminist and expresses a radical desire for people to improve their lives and see themselves with more dignity. This is what Shirley Valentine dreams about and becomes a role model for women and men of all ages. It's truly a heart warming story, and of course Shawn pulls off a tour de force as the lovely Valentine. She wins us over 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. As usual, Andrea Bechert’s set and Michael A Berg's costumes work so very well with the play's theme. Shirley abandons the housewifely apron for the silk robe, and we know she is transformed "from cocoon came forth a butterfly." Same with the Liverpool kitchen floor left behind for the beautiful beach.
She recalls schoolgirl events, feeling rejected by her teacher and classmates. “I didn’t hate anything,” she says. “The only thing I hated was myself.” She reminisces about meeting up with a former classmate, Marjorie and Shirley is inspired not to take any bullying from her this time, she says “That's right, I'm going to Greece for the sex! Sex for breakfast! Sex for dinner! Sex for tea! And sex for supper! She also 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.” We cheer Shirley’s decision to pack her bag, write Joe a note, saying she’s going, and her celebration to embark on her new adventure.
In the third act, Shirley lazes in the sun on a sandy beach; kudos to set designer Bechert creating an open feeling for the Greece affect, a wonderful villa set. The kitchen is complete with all working appliances and prop heavy set that gives that home feel. Her dresses, hats and silk specials all designed by Michael A. Berg show off a perfect Shirley, and as the show warms so do her clothes and finally her breezy Greece look is terrific. The sound by Jeff Collister includes a fiesty Brit pop as you enter the Margaret Lesher and at intermission, lighting by Scott Denison makes you want to head to Greece at the show’s end.
As her new travels end she says. “If I didn’t go back home, would anyone care - I fell in love with the idea of living,...The only holiday romance I had was with myself.” Not really, though because audiences fall in love with her. Kerri’s accent is the best coached by dialect coach Kimberly Hill. Her overall charming performance garnered a standing ovation. Director Maguire really has an amazing bond with his lead, the two show perfect timing in creating SHIRLEY. Maguire’s direction is perfection and stage manager Sara Sparks keeps the food fresh and makes sure Shawn is smooth with the costume changes. Do not miss this trip to Greece, I would guess this might be the last time Valentine and Shawn become one. Up next at Center Rep is FREAKY FRIDAY A New Musical that opens in May. In the meantime bring your own wine glass and extra plate for some amazing chips and egg and a bravo performance from Kerri Shawn.
Center Repertory Company Presents
By Willy Russell
Directed by George Maguire
Featuring Kerri Shawn
Running time 2 hours with one intermission
Must Close April 29, 2018
Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Call 925-943-7469 or visit LesherArtsCenter.org.
Photo's by Kevin Berne
*Interview with Kerry courtesy of By LOU FANCHER | Correspondent East Bay Times