Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Also see Zander's review of A Grand Night for Singing
Shirley sits in her kitchen (vintage mid-1980s) and literally prepares a meal of hand-cut fried potatoes and eggs as she speaks. She is married to the unseen Joe, a reasonable enough if indistinctive Joe, and their children are now grown. She rambles on about her life and times as she sits and walks about. Costumer Elivia Bovenzi Blitz has May initially outfitted in a sweater and jeans and her hair is clipped back. She seems weary but is pleasant enough even if her life is a humdrum one. Her friend Jane is about leave for a Greek island and Jane has paid for a ticket for Shirley as well.
Shirley looks like her kitchen: normal although lacking pizzazz of any kind. Within the room, the refrigerator, stove and fryer functional well as does Shirley. Yet the woman finds herself addressing a wall in the kitchen since her husband is often away. She readies a meal for him but cannot help but muse upon a more enthralling lifestyle. The real question is whether Shirley will stay on the plain track or flip the switch and actualize something more. A brief pause in the action (rather than full intermission) provides the answer.
The second act transpires in Greece before hues of blue which appear upon a rear stage screen as devised by set designer Randall Parsons. Shirley is seated at a small round table and sips from a glass of white wine. Jane is not around, so a resplendent Shirley is once again by herself. She now wears a flowing, colorful skirt. Her hair is loose and liberated and she feels the same way. Shirley revels in her present daythat much has changed. She has replaced the rigidity of past life with a more promising here and now. Whereas she was formerly confined to her restrictive kitchen, Shirley now enjoys an expansive seaside life. She has taken up, just for the time being, with another man. Her new inanimate confidante for conversation is rock instead of first act wall. Her existence has opened up and the future affords possibilities.
Corinna May becomes Shirley Valentine during the course of her two-plus hours on stage. May never recites but always (through her accent which is native to Liverpool) engages with Russell's words and lends tone and nuance. She delivers a wry lines such as "Marriage is like the Middle East, there is no solution" with the comic timing of a performer for whom live stage is familiar and comfortable. The actress performed for decades with Shakespeare & Company. Her range there extended from the works of the Bard through smaller drawing-room plays presented in what was known as the Wharton Salon on the grounds of The Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts. She was quite compelling just over two decades ago opposite current Shakespeare & Company artistic director Allyn Burrows in a two-hander entitled Jack & Jill. Shirley Valentine at this moment is a perfect vehicle for May and her skill set is on full display.
Eric Hill was a highly talented actor before he turned to directing. He is a dramatist capable of wearing many hats and one imagines that the actor to actor connection is of significant assistance at the Unicorn. The show evidences attention to detail. Hill, working with an actress who brings much to a rehearsal hall including her own experience teaching others, helps to maximize her multiple gifts.
Shirley Valentine navigates her way to a better place. The metaphor swings from a glass (of wine) half empty to one which is now half full. Thanks very much to Corinna May for her mastery of craft. Her performance is nothing short of endearing.
Shirley Valentine runs through October 24, 2021, at Berkshire Theatre Group, Unicorn Theatre, 6 East St., Stockbridge MA. For information and tickets, call 413-997-4444 or visit www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org.