“You don’t start again at 46, do you?” our title character asks her kitchen wall, aka the audience, a few minutes into Willy Russell’s “Shirley Valentine.”
Considering I’m exactly halfway to 46, I can’t answer that monumental question but playwright Willy Russell sure can in a breathtaking show. But can you really expect anything less in the hands of Williamston Theatre? I think not.
With direction by Lynn Lammers, and performance by theater vet Julia Glander, the one-woman show takes what could have been passed off as some cranky, desperate housewife complaining to anyone that will listen and gives her so much more depth than any original Bravo TV I’ve ever watched.
After Shirley’s realization that her life may not be ideal, she begins to think about a recent offer from a girlfriend to go to Greece. To get away, she did always want to be an airhostess, and get some much-needed adventure. Ultimately, spoiler ahead, she does go, but that’s only part of the story. What lies before, and after her arrival, is a woman on a mission to find out who she is, and what exactly she wants.
The trick with a one-woman show, like most theater, is keeping the audience interested. Glander speaks to the audience as if you’ve been friends for years, with a warmth that matches the color of her kitchen walls.
Glander is a powerhouse performer to watch. She does what all the best entertainers do, keeps you entertained, even when she’s doing something as simple as making chips and egg for her husband’s dinner. She’ll make you laugh and tear-up, all before intermission.
When she walks around it can be compared to the Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk “West Wing” was so famous for. She talks, she moves, she engages. In around two-hours you know more about Shirley Valentine than you may about some of your co-workers. The more stories she tells, and her direct eye contact with the audience, make it nearly impossible to not focus on what she’s saying.
Her stories are often told with a deep warmth and a light laugh, but when you look into her eyes, or that brief moment when she looks past the audience, you see there’s so much more. Her eyes, and stories, are the audience’s looking glass into a woman who has had her entire life shaped by everyone else.
Daniel Walker’s set is one of wonders, with a easy transition between Act One and Two that will make you stay in your seats during intermission. Viewers are graced with an English kitchen home, yellow walls and functioning appliances, then taken across the see to Greece, where the lights instantly get brighter. Kudos to Genesis Garza, the show’s lighting designer.
While Russell’s story tells one of a 46-year-old, it’s one that any age can relate to. Because really how many of us actually have it all figured out?