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St. Louis by Richard Green

Shirley Valentine
Stray Dog Theatre

Shirley Valentine
Teresa Doggett
Like most people, I celebrate certain religious holidays—nothing unusual, just ones you've heard of, the ones where you get presents and chocolate. And that one where Filipinos drag a wooden cross through the streets before getting nailed to it, for their trouble. But right now, in addition to all of that, I suddenly feel like celebrating the resurrection of Shirley Valentine at this time of year.

Teresa Doggett, the Welsh-born actress, plays the title character in Willy Russell's 1986 one-woman show. And, with the help of director Edward Coffield, her Shirley Valentine is like the proverbial frog in boiling water, not quite realizing how badly she needs to jump out of her own bad situation. The signs are all around, and the cross she bears gets heavier and heavier: an angry, demanding husband; neighbors who think she's a cipher or ridiculous or has consigned herself to being some sort of pack animal; and, finally, a daughter who "boomerangs" home, expecting to be waited on by her loving but servile mother (but is the first victim of Shirley's turnaround).

The show works very smoothly, and the second act is a tour de force of writing and acting, as Shirley makes good on her grand design, to escape from Liverpool. But a very minor sense of disappointment creeps in as I realize that she's not some overly whimsical or pathetic oddball like TV's Marge Simpson or Edith Bunker—she's just a dear, unassuming person who's under steadily increasing pressure. But that's probably why her second-act escape is so thrilling. She's an ordinary woman who actually makes an extraordinary choice. And her observations along the way are priceless: down-to-earth, practical, but still idealistic.

Director Coffield's main contribution seems to have been in building a contrast between the Shirley of act one and her enormous changes in act two. Perhaps because act one seems so real, her emergence from the coils of domestic domination to the freedom creates a sense of astonishment, and a release that's all the more breath-taking. It's hard to explain, but somehow it's one of the most joyful triumphs on stage this year.

Through May 15, 2010 at the Stray Dog Theatre, in the Tower Grove Abbey, between Shenandoah and Sidney on Tennessee Ave. For more information call (314) 865-1995 or visit them online at www.straydogtheatre.org.

Cast
Shirley Bradshaw: Teresa Doggett

Crew
Director: Edward M. Coffield
Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Production Manager: Jay V. Hall
Stage Manager: Justin Been
Assistant to Mr. Coffield: Janet Howe
Costume Design: Teresa Doggett
Light Design: Tyler Duenow
Properties: Jay V. Hall
Set Design: L.D. Lawson
Sound Design: Justin Been
Light & Sound Board Operator: Justin Been
Box Office: Ralph Murphy
Graphic & Program Design: Cathy Altholtz
House Managers: Chris Owens, Liz Schuster, Lindsey Barrow
Stray Dog Bakery: Jennifer Zoole


Photo: John C. Lamb


-- Richard T. Green

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