Growing up in the theater world and having lived in it all my life, I never would have pictured myself taking the stage alone for two hours. The prospect was way too frightening to contemplate.Â Shirley Valentine was, as often happens in life, a pure coincidence — an accident steered my way by the ever-mystifying universe.
It wasn’t that the thought of performing a one-woman show had never occurred to me. But on the rare occasion when it did, I always imagined writing a show for myself, about myself. You know how they say “write about what you know.” But life always got in the way.
I had taken a slight sabbatical from the stage in early 2000, concentrating on TV and film. But I found that the distance from the stage left an inexplicable void in my belly. I was perusing upcoming local stage productions in close proximity to where I live in Long Beach, and I came across auditions for Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy at Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theatre. I auditioned for the part of the wacky psychotherapist and subsequently planted my feet back on the stage in that role.
It was during the run of Therapy that the playhouse’s artistic director, Elaine Herman, approached me with the prospect of performing the role of Shirley Valentine at the same theater.
I had seen the movie back in the ’80s, and it was one of my all-time favorites. I connected with it emotionally, and with Shirley herself — although I was too young then (in a spiritual sense) to understand the deeper or rather the deepest meaning of what really happened to Shirley and the events that led to her striking transformation. It is an incredibly engaging story, simultaneously comedic as it is poignant, truthful and moving. Pauline Collins was remarkable in the role.
It’s the tale of a woman trapped in the cage of a little life, with an empty nest and an impassive husband, locked into a humdrum routine. A timeless story and a universal one, although it is the rare victim of this predicament who manages to wake up and recognize what has become of her life — and can then actually muster the courage to do something about it, to break down the bars of that cage, escape it and fly free.Â As Shirley says, “We don’t do what we want to do, we do what we have to do, and pretend it’s what we want to do.”
And so Shirley (as if on Facebook) “friended” me and we have been close companions ever since. I played the role in Long Beach in 2004, and that production was brought back to the same theater in 2005.
How to rehearse such a marathon? My first duty was to learn the 65-page monologue. Did I mention it is in a Liverpudlian accent? I don’t go all out on it; an authentic Liverpool dialect is nearly incomprehensible to most Americans, and there is a need here to be understood.
Once learned, it felt like what achieving Mount Everest probably feels like to a mountain climber.Â And the summit is as beautiful — the playwright, Willy Russell, is nothing short of a genius, mapping a journey that tells so compelling a story, then sprinkling it with such abundant humor and honesty, that you can’t help but be drawn in. His script is a work of brilliance, a sort of therapeutic bequest to humanity.
I returned to Shirley at Laguna Playhouse in 2011, with the supremely skilled taskmaster Andy Barnicle at the helm as director, I was ready for the journey. We dived into the expedition, attempting to uncover specifically each and every moment, unwrapping all the gifts that Willy Russell bestowed upon those pages. It was a massive undertaking which, ironically, led to some rich personal self-discovery — the proverbial gift that just keeps on giving.
So now I’m at the Falcon, as Shirley says, “”¦ going to the place beyond the wall,” standing on this stage alone for almost two hours, telling Shirley’s stories to a sea of faces. As I carry on, each and every one of those audience members becomes my friend — someone I’ve known forever, and they’ve known me. I realize anew that we are all in this together and have all traveled down similar paths. And I now can fully appreciate the true reward of a one-person show: it is the love you give and the love you receive. It’s all about love.
Shirley Valentine, Falcon Theatre, 4252 W. Riverside Dr., Burbank 91505. Opens Friday. Wed-Sat 8 pm, Sun 4 pm. Through March 3.Â Tickets: $34.50-42.Â www.FalconTheatre.com. 818-955-8101.
***All Shirley Valentine production photos by Chelsea Sutton.
DeeDee Rescher has been acting on stage, screen and TV since the ripe age of four. The daughter of Emmy-winning cinematographer Gayne Rescher, Broadway actress Ottilie Kruger and the granddaughter of actor Otto Kruger, she recently returned from a tour of the hit Broadway play Lombardi.Â She was in The Prisoner of Second Avenue with Jason Alexander in 2011 at El Portal Theatre. www.deedeerescher.com.Print