Doubling our luck is the warm, spirited performance of Teresa Doggett, under the capable direction of Lee Anne Mathews, in a heartfelt reprisal of a role she first performed several years ago. It's no wonder Doggett chose to return to this character. Playwright Willy Russell's Shirley, a woman whose carefully concealed discontent bubbles to the surface when offered an unexpected opportunity to travel to Greece, is earthy, conflicted, vulnerable and at times outrageously funny.
Shirley's children are grown and out-of-the-house and, after many years, she and her husband are in a major rut, leaving Shirley to spend her days alone in the kitchen, talking to the wall and sipping bottle after bottle of cheap Riesling. Shirley's predicament is illustrated through a number of telling stories, skillfully using her observations of others to reveal an inner turmoil to great affect.
Attention to technical detail is present throughout the show; Doggett even manages to "tan" once she arrives in Greece. The set and lighting design, by Matthew Stuckel and Max Parrilla, do an excellent job of conveying the slightly shabby, working class status of Shirley and her husband's home. Several nice touches, including the use of a cooking element that enables Doggett to prepare eggs and chips on stage and the use of sun-washed colors and texture to represent Greece, enhance the show in a subtle, but effective, manner. Finally, the costumes, by Doggett, set the period while also helping to establish local and define Shirley's age and social class.
It is Doggett's characterization, however, that compells the audience to empathize with and root for Shirley Valentine.
Doggett shows hints of despair in the personal insights she shares in "conversations" with her kitchen wall and the audience. She balances these somber moments with an abundance of delightfully characterized stories -- a harsh teacher from her youth, her son's escapades in a school play and even her husband's careless indifference are brought fully to life through Doggett's varied and nuanced impersonations.
An invitation to join a recently divorced friend on a trip to Greece awakens a longing in Shirley and, spurred by her husband's offhand cruelty, she decides to live for herself, just this once, and take that trip. Doggett pours all of Shirley's disappointments into the possibility of exotic travel with a restrained enthusiasm.
Her voice brightens with energy and excitement and her posture and bearing take on a strength and vitality that was missing at the play's open. Doggett shows us the effect of possibility on Shirley, emphasizing the play's theme with a light touch and purposeful physicality. The transformation is dramatic, yet comes across as perfectly natural when balanced by occasional moments of guilt and self-doubt.
Once in Greece, Doggett really opens Shirley up -- relaying tales of the lustful Greek barkeeper and a bevy of tourists with vibrant gestures and perfectly stereotyped touches. Doggett attacks the second act as a woman who understands both the significance and the importance, to her self-preservation, of the decision she's made. This may be her one chance to escape the dull, dreary life to which she was previously resigned and Shirley Valentine is determined to make the most of the opportunity. By the show's curtain, Doggett has taken us on a journey of discovery extending far beyond the beaches of Greece and into the heart of a middle-aged woman.
"Shirley Valentine" runs through March 16, 2014 at Dramatic License Productions theater space in Chesterfield Mall. For reservations or more information, visit www.dramaticlicenseproductions.org or call (636) 821-1746.