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Road to 1,000

Shirley Valentine show #719

By Marc Gonzalez

April 19, 2018

Years ago, I read a few snippets of Willy Russell’s charming, intimate play, Shirley Valentine. I remember laughing (in a good way) and wanting to see the play staged. However, to take on the role of Shirley is to accept a tall order of lines, energy, and personality traits which override pure acting talent, but are an innate part of the actress herself. Enter Miss Kerri Shawn. In her fifth turn as the homemaking housewife, Ms. Shawn’s charisma and smile light up the Margaret Lesher Theater in great theatrical fashion. Ms. Shawn is extremely personable, loveable, and diverse in her emotional delivery. In one of the most naturally enjoyable and seemingly effortless performances I have seen in quite some time, Ms. Shawn is a dynamite Shirley, and is not to be missed.

From discussions about cooking to finding a certain part of a woman’s anatomy satisfying, accepting a trip to Greece, Shirley has a lot to say, and the audience is privy to her stories and thoughts. In fact, Shirley, as a character, is so well-crafted in Willy Russell’s book that it even makes an affair seem like a justifiable action. Now, this is nothing new as there are numerous films, plays, and novels where an affair rooted in whim and having lived a life buried in unsatisfactory emotions has become basis enough for humans to accept an affair. Under the sturdy direction of George Maguire, Ms. Shawn is able to go deep into Shirley’s happiness and sadness. At the crux, it is all about Shirley rediscovering her identity. She has been married for quite some time and fallen victim to routine, an emotionally inaccessible husband, and a life sandwiched between her kitchen walls and wine cabinet. Ms. Shawn is able to effectively and logically deliver the range of Shirley’s emotions in her seamless, two-act monologue. Mr. Maguire has certainly dug deep into Ms. Shawn’s well of acting tools, allowing her to showcase every ounce of talent she has at her disposal, including cooking a real meal of eggs and chips!

Shirley Valentine is a woman who laments, cooks, cleans, jokes, fantasizes, and wonders, all because she is a human; a beautiful woman who has enough life experience to want more out of however much time she has left. Ms. Shawn’s Shirley is a fully-realized, tug-at-the-heartstrings character who is consistently entertaining. Helping the story along is a perfectly detailed dual-set design by Andrea Bechert; Act One is in a kitchen with all the fixings, and Act Two is set on a Greek coastline. Scott Denison’s lighting design is in perfect sync with both locales, helping set the tone and warmth of Shirley’s home and vacation spot. Now that I have fulfilled a college desire in seeing Shirley Valentine staged, I can safely say that it is a powerhouse role for any actress gifted enough to portray her, and Miss Kerri Shawn is the East Bay’s gift to perform this heartwarming theatrical story. Go see this show.

Willy Russell Liberates Happiness from Age

By Owen Brunelle

April 10, 2018

Shirley Valentine (delightful Kerri Shawn), a 52 year old Liverpool housewife, is facing an empty nest and talking to the wall. Every morning, she makes chips and eggs for her husband, cooking and cleaning until Joe comes home from work. She does the same chores every day, like clockwork, having raised two kids, who now live on their own. How would you feel?

In 1986, Willy Russell created a classic British housewife who feels she has completed her obligations as mother, and, yes, as wife, too. Kerri Shawn reprises her role at Center REPertory, under the brisk and witty direction of George MacGuire. Kerri brilliantly embodies a not-to-be missed Shirley for our time.

With so much life left, Shirley questions how this trivial rut has become her daily routine. Her marriage feels spiritless and dry; the organic love and chemistry that she used to feel with Joe is gone. Her husband is gone. Fights are predictable and unavoidable. Even the words “I love you” have become nothing more than an instinctual excuse, spoken just before causing harm.

Besieged with anxiety, Shirley announces,“Marriage is like the Middle East— there is no solution! You treat the problems as they flare up, but for the most part you just duck and cover and hope that the ceasefire holds!”

Her kids seem so hip! They have discovered 80s wonders: Keith Richards, marijuana, the clitoris, cafes, and Art School—those kids sure know how to live!

In her desperate, middle-aged desolation, Shirley Valentine can only fantasize about returning to her adventurous, punkish youthful days. She remembers fondly skipping classes, disobeying dress codes, and frustrating the headmaster.

She remembers grade school: “On me report card, me teachers said I wouldn’t venture very far, and based on me marks in Geography if I did, it’d be because I was lost!”

When an old friend unexpectedly invites Shirley for a two-week vacation in the Greek islands, Shirley’s anxieties run rampant.

What would the neighbors think? How would it look to her children? Would they think she’d left to have an affair? How would her husband survive without her cooking? Does Shirley DARE to go to Greece? This could very well be just the change she needs. Shirley leaps from her daily routine of selflessness to some well-deserved pleasure, enchanting us with her newfound spirit of adventure.

Shirley Valentine explores what it means to live your best life regardless of age, class, or gender. We all are given only so much life to live, so why not live it all? Shirley Valentine says, “Be careful, many of us quit livin’ long before we die!” She embarks on a journey of the body, mind and soul—and her wildest dreams are fulfilled.

Willy Russell has given us a comic masterpiece with the endearing charm to stand the test of time. Kerri Shawn becomes Shirley Valentine—superbly, passionately, and with great humanity. Don’t miss Kerri—she’s a star in our firmament.

Curtain Calls: Kerri Shawn Reprises Shirley Valentine to Great Depth

By Sally Hogarty

April 8, 2018

There’s nothing like watching a consummate professional perform a job they love, and that’s exactly what you have as Kerri Shawn shares her lovely portrayal of Shirley Valentine in Center Rep’s one-woman show of the same name.

Running through April 29 at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center, Willy Russell’s 1986 play about an unhappy Liverpool housewife who makes chips and eggs for her husband while talking to the wall and wondering where her life has gone is still relevant today. I saw the show 13 years ago when Shawn also played Shirley, and the funny, poignant and totally pertinent dialogue still rings true. When Shirley receives an unexpected invitation to accompany a girlfriend to Greece, she makes a life-changing decision that many can relate to.

“This play brings back memories of love and change possibilities for our audience,” says director George Maguire, who expertly directed Shawn 13 years ago and again now. “It’s one-of-a-kind message resonates everywhere.”

I didn’t think it possible, but Shawn found even more depths to explore as she takes Shirley on for the sixth time in 19 years. Her own life has certainly provided many lessons in sadness, courage and the importance of living life to the fullest in the intervening years since she last channeled Shirley. Luckily for us, she brings these rich layers to her current performance.

Not only does Shawn make Shirley come alive, she does so while dealing with a large number of props and cooking a real dinner. Be sure and eat before you go, or the aromas will have you starving by intermission!

Adding to the realism is Andrea Bechert’s heavily detailed kitchen set in Act I and soothing Greek beach in Act II with sound designer Jeff Collister and lighting designer Scott Denison adding their considerable talents to the mix.

For the Fourth Brilliant Time Kerri Shawn is the Perfect Shirley Valentine

By Vince Mediaa

Posted: April 6, 2018


The potatoes are being cut and fried once again as Shirley prepares her famous “chips and eggs” for her husband. The smell from the freshly cooked meal fills the Margaret Lesher stage at the Center Reps encore production of SHIRLEY VALENTINE now on stage through April 29th. The amazing Kerri Shawn is back for the 4th time performing as the Liverpool housewife who dreams about a trip to Greece. Written by Willy Russell, and directed by the accomplished local favorite actor/director George Maguire. The one woman play was a hit in London and New York in 1991 and this creative team at the Center Rep started their VALENTINE adventure in 1998. Shirley speaks directly to the audience and draws you into her story. Maguire admires Shawn’s distinguished talent, “Kerri is never acting - she grounds a role in real people doing real things. There’s truth, honesty, heart, charm, there’s also increased resonance, We’re older,” “we are here 19 years later since we first began bringing this story of a woman's deep desire to experience and change back to the Lesher Center,” says Maguire.

It has been 13 years since Kerri has last performed Shirley and she says she is different now “I’m not the same person, I’ve evolved, plus I’ve traveled to Greece. I went where they filmed the movie,” Kerri commenting about the current issues “with the ‘MeToo movement’, it’s entirely relevant. It’s a woman reclaiming her life; it’s about all of us. It’s also about men who carry waste around, about life bogging us down - I think it’s fantastic and important that women and men speak out. It’s authentic, vital and I believe change will happen.” Both Kerri and Maguire create a SHIRLEY VALENTINE that still is provocative, important and who can still whip up a great "chip and eggs", then transport her audiences to Greece.

To her wonderful kitchen wall she says “Shirley, you are one silly bitch. You’re 42 not 22. You’re just another stupid women looking for an adventure. And the time for adventure is over.” Shirley is used to talking to the kitchen wall “Marriage is like the Middle East. There’s no solution.” Her husband pays her no attention unless his dinner isn’t on the table the moment he walks through the door, and so the running monologue she delivers while preparing his chip and egg is the closest she comes to a conversation. Her close friend Jane has invited her on holiday to Greece, but of course she’s feels she can’t go. Her husband would have no-one to cook his dinner or do his laundry. But as she cooks the chips, she realises that all she wants is to drink a glass of wine by the sea, and live her life like she wants.

The three act play is not only funny, it is also moving. Playwright Russell holds up familiar aspects of life for inspection and enjoyment. He is an instinctive feminist and expresses a radical desire for people to improve their lives and see themselves with more dignity. This is what Shirley Valentine dreams about and becomes a role model for women and men of all ages. It's truly a heart warming story, and of course Shawn pulls off a tour de force as the lovely Valentine. She wins us over and we like Shirley. We identify with her. We remember the days when we, too, were adventurous, free-spirited, and wondering what happened to our former selves. As usual, Andrea Bechert’s set and Michael A Berg's costumes work so very well with the play's theme. Shirley abandons the housewifely apron for the silk robe, and we know she is transformed "from cocoon came forth a butterfly." Same with the Liverpool kitchen floor left behind for the beautiful beach.

She recalls schoolgirl events, feeling rejected by her teacher and classmates. “I didn’t hate anything,” she says. “The only thing I hated was myself.” She reminisces about meeting up with a former classmate, Marjorie and Shirley is inspired not to take any bullying from her this time, she says “That's right, I'm going to Greece for the sex! Sex for breakfast! Sex for dinner! Sex for tea! And sex for supper! She also reminisces about the girl and woman she was - carefree, fun-loving and daring. She wonders how she became this middle-aged, ignored, working-class housewife and mother of a grown-up son and daughter. “I always said when the kids are grown up, I’d leave him,” she says, referring to her boorish husband, Joe. “But then I realized I had nowhere to go.” We cheer Shirley’s decision to pack her bag, write Joe a note, saying she’s going, and her celebration to embark on her new adventure.

In the third act, Shirley lazes in the sun on a sandy beach; kudos to set designer Bechert creating an open feeling for the Greece affect, a wonderful villa set. The kitchen is complete with all working appliances and prop heavy set that gives that home feel. Her dresses, hats and silk specials all designed by Michael A. Berg show off a perfect Shirley, and as the show warms so do her clothes and finally her breezy Greece look is terrific. The sound by Jeff Collister includes a feisty Brit pop as you enter the Margaret Lesher and at intermission, lighting by Scott Denison makes you want to head to Greece at the show’s end.

As her new travels end she says. “If I didn’t go back home, would anyone care - I fell in love with the idea of living,...The only holiday romance I had was with myself.” Not really, though because audiences fall in love with her. Kerri’s accent is the best coached by dialect coach Kimberly Hill. Her overall charming performance garnered a standing ovation. Director Maguire really has an amazing bond with his lead, the two show perfect timing in creating SHIRLEY. Maguire’s direction is perfection and stage manager Sara Sparks keeps the food fresh and makes sure Shawn is smooth with the costume changes. Do not miss this trip to Greece, I would guess this might be the last time Valentine and Shawn become one. Up next at Center Rep is FREAKY FRIDAY A New Musical that opens in May. In the meantime bring your own wine glass and extra plate for some amazing chips and egg and a bravo performance from Kerri Shawn.

Greece Changes Life for Shirley Valentine at Center REP

By Judy Richter

Posted: April 7, 2018

An Englishwoman’s life changes dramatically when she visits Greece in Willy Russell’s 1986, one-woman play, “Shirley Valentine,” presented by Center Repertory Company.

Shirley (Kerri Shawn), whose married name is Shirley Bradshaw, is the frumpy 52-year-old mother of two adult children. Her marriage to Joe has long since lost any sense of romance.

The possibility of change arises when her longtime best friend, Jane, invites her to go along on a two-week trip to a Greek island. Jane will pay for everything.

Shirley’s transition takes place in three scenes. In the first, she talks to her kitchen wall about her life and Jane’s invitation, which she’s not certain she’ll accept. As she talks, she drinks wine and prepares the eggs and chips that she will serve Joe for tea when he gets home.

In the second scene, she has decided to go to Greece and has been secretly preparing for three weeks. Now she’s waiting for Jane to pick her up, but she’s still ambivalent.

These two scenes make up the first act. The third scene takes place in the second act, when Andrea Bechert’s homey kitchen set has been transformed into a sunny beach in front of a Greek taverna.

That’s where Shirley relates her adventures, including an affair with a handsome Greek man, and makes what could be a life-changing decision.

Each scene is divided into smaller segments with descriptions of her childhood experiences, her children, her marriage, her preparations for the trip and subsequent events.

The first act can become repetitious as some segments seem prolonged, but the second is tighter and more effective.

As directed by George Maguire, Shawn’s timing is impeccable as she fully inhabits her character. She believably navigates through both humorous and sad moments.

In the end, Shirley comes to some significant insights about life, or at least her own life: “We don’t do what we want to do; we do what we have to do,” she says. Later she says, “Most of us die before we’re dead.” Not Shirley.

It’s not surprising that Maguire and Shawn have worked so well on this production. This is the fourth time the two have done so for Center Rep. The first was in 1998-99, followed by 2001 and 2006.

Besides Bechert’s set, the production is enhanced by Scott Denison’s lighting, Michael A. Berg’s costumes and Jeff Collister’s sound, which includes some Beatles classics in the first act and sounds of the sea in the second.