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Published: Thursday, 1/26/2006

Superb 'Shirley Valentine' prompts its audience to imagine the possibilities


The staging of Shirley Valentine is spare: a table and chairs in the first act, a bench in the second.

It's more than enough, because actress Shirley Williams fills the space.

Williams stars in the one-woman show directed by Paul Causman that runs through Sunday in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre.

Although the play was written two decades ago by Willy Russell, the reaction of an almost-full-to-capacity theater last week shows that its themes are still relevant.

Shirley Valentine is a 42-year-old British housewife whose life has fallen into a humdrum routine. Her children have grown and are on their own, although how well they are doing is open to question.

Her husband - "my feller," she calls him - has become set in his ways, expecting dinner on the table the minute he comes home from work and expecting certain meals on certain days.

What happened to the vibrant, vital rebel she was as a girl, Shirley asks the kitchen wall as she swills down another glass of riesling. The wall and the bottle are two of Shirley's three best friends. The other is Jane, and it is Jane who has caused Shirley to question her mundane existence, to ask how she became so anonymous.

Jane, you see, is going to Greece, and she has paid for a ticket for Shirley to come with her.

"I can't possibly go," Shirley tells the wall. "My sense of adventure has died, hasn't it?"

What gets Shirley to make the move to reclaim herself is amazingly simple: a plate of eggs and chips, which her feller threw in her lap because it was Thursday and he was expecting steak.

As for the steak, it ended up in the mouth of a dog being raised by vegetarians. This makes sense, once you enter Shirley's world.

Written in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, Shirley Valentine is a delight. Her thoughts meander and touch on the sexual revolution, finding oneself, the importance of the wheel, a determination to experience life, and the pleasure of feeling real silk, among many other things: The side trips in Shirley's mind are even more fun than the main destination.

Despite an accent that's more Irish than English, Williams keeps Shirley Valentine credible, even through a sort of silly description of an orgasm (the play is not for youngsters) and script references to British institutions, such as the Sainsbury's supermarket chain.

Filled with subtlety and humor, Shirley Valentine and Shirley Williams entertain the audience and prod it into thinking about the possibility of change. Maybe a trip to Greece isn't in the budget, but there are many ways to keep lives from wasting away, to reach out and make a connection with other people. Read a book. Visit the museum. Play with a child. Learn to dance.

There's more to life than talking to walls. Besides, they make lousy conversationalists.

"Shirley Valentine" continues at 8 p.m. tonight-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 15 10th St. Tickets are $18 for adults and $16 for seniors. Information: 419-243-9277.

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