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San Francisco by Richard Connema

An Inspiring Performance in
Shirley Valentine

Also see Richard's reviews of King Lear, Restoration Comedy and Andrea Marcovicci

Kerri Shawn gives another dynamic performance in Willy Russell's Shirley Valentine, presented by Center REPertory Company at the Dean Lesher Center for the Performing Arts in Walnut Creek. And, once again, it is helmed by George Maquire. This marks the third time these two talented persons have participated in the one-person drama in Walnut Creek. Center REPertory staged it first in 1999 and then in 2001. Requests from the public for a repeat performance have been pouring in every since, so the company decided to revive it again. It plays through July 29.

Shirley Valentine is the story of a middle-aged, working class Liverpool housewife who is invited to go with a friend on a two-week vacation to Greece. Shirley's life is unfulfilling; she is a lonely soul who spends a great deal of time talking to her kitchen wall and other inanimate objects. Her husband Joe (we never see him) is no source of comfort, and sex with him is an overrated pastime. There is no romance in their relationship. She proclaims herself "Saint Joan of the Kitchen Sink."

We first see the 52-year-old Liverpudlian housewife in her middle class bare-bones kitchen drinking a glass of Riesling while preparing an egg 'n' chip dinner for her husband. Shirley talks about her best friend Jane, a "liberated woman" who will be going with her to Greece. She offers misleadingly wry observations of her life experiences to date. She has yet to tell her husband of the trip for fear that the controlling man will talk her out of it. However, she gets up enough nerve to go, and has packed her bags. She tacks up a large piece of paper with huge letters spelling out "Gone to Greece, back in two weeks." Off she goes, leaving her drudgery work behind.

Act two finds Shirley basking in the sun on the shores of a Greek island. She is extremely happy since she had met a handsome Greek waiter. She admits that she has fallen in love with the idea of living. She looks younger and glowing as she tells the audience about her romantic adventure with the gorgeous waiter. I won't go into the ending of this intriguing play.

Kerri Shawn gives a compelling performance in this two hour and 30 minute production. Her Liverpool accent is perfect. She is amazing as she unravels Shirley's sexual and social identity. She does a vibrant job of talking about the characters, using the speech of kids, her friend Marjorie, and a braggart neighbor whom she cannot stand. Shawn is mesmerizing and keeps the audience fascinated as Shirley seeks to fulfill life.

Aaron Benson's first act set is an excellent detailed kitchen that one would find in the middle-class row houses in the Liverpool area. The stove actually works and we can smell the eggs frying while she regales us with stories of some the characters in her life. In the second act, the set designer has a simple set of fake rocks that line the sea shore while sound designer Jeff Collister gives us authentic sounds of the sea (on opening night, one of the rocks kept moving about as Shirley climbed to the top). Lighting Director Scott Denison provides a brilliant sunlight effect in the second act, as if on the shore of a Greek isle. George Maquire's direction is spot on.

Shirley Valentine plays at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek through July 29th. For tickets, call 925-943-7469.

Center REPertory opens its 2006-2007 season with Beaumarchais's The Marriage of Figaro, opening on September 7th and running through October 7th.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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