By Richard Pacheco
“Shirley Valentine” is a one-character play by Willy Russell. Taking the form of a monologue by a middle-aged, working class Liverpool housewife, it focuses on her life before and after a transforming holiday abroad. Russell turned the acclaimed play into a film staring the actress who did the show on stage in London’s West End, Pauline Collins.
The current production at 2nd Story offers a bravura performance by Joanne Fayan that bristles, sparkles and delights without hesitation and without stop.
Shirley is stuck in her life, caught and trapped in the dull day to day in Liverpool. There seems to be no escape from her doldrums which daily encroach on her and only leave her with faded dreams and lost hopes, in short leave her in a dismal state longing for more. Shirley finds herself regularly alone and talking to the wall while preparing an evening meal of egg and chips for her emotionally distant husband. Her friend whose husband left her for the milkman, offers to take her along on a trip to Greece, all expenses paid and Shirley can’t resist. Her two children often annoy and distress her with their attitudes and antics. Her husband is often distant and self-absorbed leaving her feeling trapped with no way out of her dilemma, which only seems to get worse everyday.
So when she heads off to Greece she does with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. Here is a chance to revive herself and her life to reconnect with the Shirley Valentine who was bold and daring and tamed down when she became a wife, misplacing her sense of daring and love of life. In Greece, she is ignites in her love of life and herself once again, reviving her sense of daring and adventure, stirring her courage once again.
Joanne Fayan is raw delight in the role. She is poised and astute in her depiction of Shirley’s conflicting fees and dreams. She has personality that she exudes without fail. When she rants about her husband and her disappointments, it is comic gems, delivered with the right mixture so sassy and smart. The only thing missing from the performance is a Liverpool accent and frankly with this kind of gem of a performance, that is minimal and better no accent that a horrid one. Fayan’s performance makes up for this with a zest and convincing passion that illuminates the stage.
Mark Peckham directs with a sureness of touch and real energy, which takes full advantage of the theater in the round set up at 2nd Story’s upstairs theatre. He moves her with grace and supple confidence throughout the space, a sheer delight.
The setting and light design by Max Ponticelli is right on the mark evoking both the Liverpool flat and the Greek ruins with discrete and slight touches that work perfectly.
This is a bold and superb performance that shimmers with verve and personality, leaving an indelible mark in the memory and the heart. Ms.Fayan got a well deserved standing ovation at the end for her memorable performance. You don’t want to miss it.
It will be presented again until April 2in the Upstage theater with tickets: Regular – $35, Preview (online) – $20, Preview (phone/in-person) – $25. Under 25 – $25* Matinees are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:30.