SHIRLEY VALENTINE is Perfection at Hedgerow

by Gary Labowitz

Susan Wefel stars as SHIRLEY VALENTINE, running at Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley, PA through July 3.

Hedgerow Theater has returned to its stage a poignant little play that they attempted last February, but was snowed out. It is a course in humanity, taught by a sensitive, sensible, and sententious Liverpool housewife, Shirley Bradshaw nee Valentine. Her oral ramblings are filled with pathos, insight, humor, love, bemusement, and forgiveness. Her physical ramblings will give you hope, joy, and perhaps a little twinge of conscience for your own misdeeds and missed deeds. You can’t get much more from a short show than this!

Mrs. Bradshaw, and you will quickly come to think of her as Shirley, is a dear. She talks to the wall (really!). She is a devoted wife and mother who took and takes ceaseless care of her husband and children with no compensation for her. She is a plough mule who gets the same old job done day after day, year after year, until she reaches the point of wondering, “Is this all there is?” And yet she knows there was to be more, the fulfillment of her dreams and desires. She knows and reflects on this, but don’t pity her, for she seems not to have any for herself. Admire her for her staunch British upper lip. This woman shows us her frailty and spine at the same time.

Okay, it’s only through her words that we come to know about the entire history and current situation. It’s only her inner monologue and talking to the wall (really!) by which we come to know her and her relationships. We trust her, and that lets us know her family, friends, and neighbors as well. We even get to know her innermost, personal feeling, perhaps more than we need to know. But Shirley tells it all.

We first meet her at home, just returned from a shopping trip, and preparing dinner for her husband, waiting for him as always. We last see her in Greece, waiting for her husband, but not as usual. The period between these “waitings” is a mere six weeks or so, but in it we learn a lifetime’s past and foresee a new life’s future. Shirley is no longer Mrs. Bradshaw, but is Shirley Valentine, the girl/woman she once was and is once more.

The show brings all this out with three major strategies: the sets, the words, and the movement. The sets are extremely simple and well done. It is Liverpool of 1900, but could just as easily be anywhere, anytime. As such, we can identify with it, unless one is so shallow and ignorant to miss the point. Of course, such a one wouldn’t be going to the theater, either.

The words are wonderful. They are the brash and slangy English that can slip past you and over your head without some explanation. Read the program! It has a short dictionary of terms you may need to know. Shirley says the damnedest things. She reveals herself with direct discourse, holding nothing back, and with whimsy and humor. She is funny, touching, and totally human.

And the movement tells us much. The actor here is Susan Wefel, a talented and brave woman who clumps onto the stage, totally Shirley, and slips directly into our hearts. She talks to the wall, she talks to herself, she even talks directly to us (a minor flaw of breaking the fourth wall, but necessary) and carries the entire weight of meaning on her capable shoulders. Her walking, sitting, posture, head movements, everything, was perfectly Shirley, and perfectly done. Shirley was real. Surely, you can remind yourself it’s just an actress. But relax and enjoy! It is Shirley.

I have loved one person shows. I have hated one person shows. I loved this one.

by Willy Russell
Directed by Tom Teti
June 12 – July, 3, 2010
Hedgerow Theatre
64 Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA

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