THE PLAY Shirley Valentine has entered the realm of the classics with its funny, poignant portrayal of an unhappy housewife's journey of self-discovery.
Written by Willy Russell, it is also arguably one of the great one-person shows of all time.
Malinda Davis Smith and the Savannah Community Theatre bring Shirley to life onstage at the Tybee Post Theater, in a show opening this weekend and directed by the renowned J. Tom Coleman III.
“After our first read-through, I told Tom this is a piece of theatre that sits comfortably on me. It resonates on many levels. I thought, this is a woman I want to create,” says Smith.
“The first time I heard her read, it was obvious that Malinda is someone who relates deeply to this role and is able to fully explore it,” says Coleman.
“She would read it one way, and then the next time read it a completely different way, and ask, which one do you want?”
Local theatre veteran Jeffery Hall wears many hats with Savannah Community Theatre and is deeply involved with staging this production.
“Shirley is a middle class housewife in Liverpool,” explains Hall. “Her life has become mundane. She is the housewife who waits on her husband. She has lost her identity in the process.”
Shirley has what Hall describes as “a counseling session with her wall. She has a retrospective right in her kitchen.”
“A friend asks her to go to Greece with her, and her husband says no. But she gets rebellious — so she goes.”
In Greece she meets “a friend,” Hall says, “and she starts living a different life. She likes it, so she stays there.”
In the end, “She’s not sure if she’s going home or not, but she’s definitely a new person,” Hall says.
“This play resonates not just with women but with anyone,” says Smith. “There are always times in anyone’s life where they ask themselves, how did I get to this moment?”
Also, she says, “the characters in Shirley’s life are hilarious to create onstage.”
The role not only requires mastery of about 55 pages of text, but Shirley literally cooks an entire meal from start to finish during the show, ostensibly to be hot and ready the moment her husband arrives home.
Not a fake meal, but an actual meal, with a real working stove and everything.
Coleman describes the process of integrating the complex maneuvers involved in cooking with the need to convey the lines accurately and with feeling and nuance.
“We’ve all seen this a million times ourselves. We’ve all cooked something in the kitchen while having a conversation with other people, or talked with someone else while they were doing the same thing,” Coleman says.
“It’s all very natural and normal. But the key is to start with the conversation, and let that be your guide. The activity then flows out of that conversation, also in a very natural fashion,” he says.
Smith says, “It’s a process you have to organize and map out. You have to practice it to the point of routine, where it’s second nature. After all, cooking this meal is right in Shirley’s wheelhouse! This is something she herself has done many, many times before in the exact same way.”
This isn’t the first time Smith and Coleman have worked together. Smith was in the Coleman-directed and Stratton Leopold-produced Ken, an original work based on a short story by Arnold Sundgaard which premiered at Muse Arts Warehouse.
In that show, Smith played several small roles. This is not only her first time doing Shirley Valentine, but her first one-person show.
“She is a serious actress who has great comedic style,” says Hall. “She has really taken this role and made it her own.
“Playing a lead role is one thing, but being the sole person onstage is another,” Hall laughs. “I’m not sure I’d want to do that myself.”