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Archive for March, 2014

Shirley Valentine
by Willy Russell
Directed by Lee Anne Mathews
Dramatic License Productions

February 28, 2014

Teresa Doggett Photo by John Lamb  Dramatic License Productions

Teresa Doggett
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

Teresa Doggett is Shirley Valentine.  In Dramatic License Productions’ current presentation of Willy Russell’s one-woman comedy-drama, Doggett is the undisputed star. She takes a role made famous in the 1980’s by Pauline Collins and makes it her own in a fully committed, confident performance that is the centerpiece of this engaging production.

Shirley Valentine Bradshaw (Doggett) is a working class housewife in 1980’s Liverpool, England.  Having married and had children at a young age, Shirley has spent much of her adult life at home raising her kids and looking after her demanding husband. Now, at 42, she is starting to wonder if life has passed her by.  When a friend invites her to join her on a vacation to Greece, Shirley is forced to confront her regrets and make a decision, and the results of that choice have profound effects on her life and her very perception of herself and those around her.  

Russell’s play is very much of its time, with a lot of the humor and drama revolving around the predicament of middle-aged women in England at the time.  Some of the material has dated to the point where it really can’t be updated and it needs to be treated as a period piece, but it works very well as such.  What the play absolutely demands, though, is a dynamic actress in the role of Shirley, and this production delivers that in Teresa Doggett.

Doggett brings Shirley to life with all her humor, warmth and complexity.  The wonder of this performance is that Shirley is such a multi-faceted character, and Doggett’s energy portrays all those facets to the fullest.  Shirley is an engaging personality, warmly greeting the audience (and the wall of her kitchen, which she frequently addresses) and seemingly cheerful about the day as we first meet her and she recounts stories of her kids and her reflections on changing attitudes in the world toward women, aging, sex and other issues.  She’s full of broad humor and an enthusiastic storyteller. As the performance continues, however, we begin to see Shirley’s dissatisfaction and regret, about her family’s, and  society’s, expectations of her in contrast to her own hopes and dreams from when she was a young, energetic teenager before her marriage.  She’s faced with an identity crisis between Shirley Bradshaw, the worn-out housewife, and Shirley Valentine–the young, free-spirited person that she used to be and wishes she can be again.

Doggett’s strengths are her great energy and engaging characterization as she brings the audience into Shirley’s world so completely, and takes us along on her journey of self-discovery. Her Liverpool accent, while not perfect, is consistent  and Shirley’s big personality is fully realized. Also, even though this is a one-woman show, it’s not exactly a one-character show, as Doggett portrays the various people in Shirley’s life as she describes them. That’s another great aspect of this performance, in that all these characters, from Shirley’s husband and kids to her various friends and people she meets on her trip to Greece, are fully realized. Doggett adjusts her voice and mannerisms accordingly as Shirley tells her story, and even though Shirley is the only character who actually appears on stage, we are allowed to really “meet” these other people, as well.  

This is a show very much of its era, and the time and place are set well by Doggett’s performance as well as her costumes and the sets by Matthew Stuckel.  We see the very realistic interior of Shirley’s kitchen in the first act, as well as the exotic Greek villa of the second act, and the 1980’s music that plays before the performance also helps to set the mood.   The only real misstep was a somewhat clumsily-executed scene change in the middle of act one that made many in the audience wonder if it was intermission. The performance recovered very well after that, though, and Doggett’s determined Shirley brought us back into the story very quickly.

had never seen this play before, but  I remember hearing about the celebrated performance of Pauline Collins in the London and Broadway productions  in the late 1980’s, and also in the subsequent film.  It also became something of a cultural touchstone for middle-aged women at the time. I was a teenager then, but now I’m closer to the protagonist’s age, and I think watching the show is probably a different experience now than it would have been when it was first produced. The perception of age and the roles of women in society have changed significantly in the last 25 years, to the point where Shirley’s situation seems like it would have happened to someone at least ten years older in today’s world.  Still, it’s a fascinating character study and a portrait of a time and place that’s valuable to look back on, and this production provides that and, in Teresa Doggett’s confident and remarkable performance, something to celebrate.

Teresa Doggett Photo by John Lamb Dramatic License Productions

Teresa Doggett
Photo by John Lamb
Dramatic License Productions

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