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On Theater: 'Shirley' a one-woman valentine at Playhouse

October 06, 2011|By Tom Titus

The entire cast of "Shirley Valentine," the Laguna Playhouse's latest production, is brilliant. Of course, the entire cast consists solely of the actress playing the title role.

Those whose memories of "Shirley Valentine" consist only of the 1988 movie may not be aware that playwright Willy Russell ("Educating Rita") first conceived it as a one-woman stage exercise a few years earlier. I certainly wasn't and pondered, how can they stage such a project against two detailed and contrasting background settings?

Quite nicely, as it turns out. But it requires the perfect leading lady, and Deedee Rescher fills that role beautifully as a frustrated 46-year-old Liverpool housewife who yearns for a fling on a Greek island — and goes for it.

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Before taking that giant step, however, Shirley engages in an extended kitchen table conversation. She talks to the wall — literally, the fourth one, her audience — as if seeking playgoers' encouragement.

Rescher, who played the role in a previous production in Long Beach, knows this territory like the back of her character's well-worn hand. She expounds on her sorry lot — an empty nester with a dull lump of a husband, leading a pointless existence of a life — screwing up the courage to see what else is out there before it's too late.

Her characterization is perfectly channeled by Andrew Barnicle, the playhouse's artistic director of 20 years returning for an encore. Barnicle guides her interpretation, and her engagement with the audience, with a steady and caring hand.

Rescher makes light of her colorless situation in her finely detailed kitchen, brightened by a garish yellow wall coloring by scenic and costume designer Bruce Goodrich. As she cooks dinner, the smell of it is detectable in the rear of the theater.

One potential bear trap is smoothly sidestepped — the Liverpudlian accent, which may not be fully comprehended on this side of the pond (remember the Beatles?). Under the tutelage of dialect coach Paul Carne, Rescher flavors her speech with the lilt of its English origin without sacrificing clarity in the process.

One would never realize, while viewing the first act, that Rescher is quite a stunning lady with a delightful figure. That revelation occurs briefly early in the second act as the actress suns herself on the beach of a Greek island. It's an illustrious transformation.

Rescher's skill at painting a verbal picture of her life and adventures is outstanding. Never do we tire of her unending monologue and yearn for other characters to appear. Rather, we are willingly caught up in her reverie and we hang on her every word.

"Shirley Valentine" is the ideal antidote for life's frustrations, the depiction of a woman's successful skirmish with her midlife crisis. It's well worth the extended standing ovation accorded Deedee Rescher on opening night at the Laguna Playhouse.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Shirley Valentine"

Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays and a performance at 2 p.m. on Thursday, until Oct. 23

Cost: $30 to $65

Call: (949) 497-2787, ext. 229 or visit http://www.lagunaplayhouse.com

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