Shirley Valentine

Only one woman in Austin could play Shirley Valentine with the charismatic hold of a storyteller, and that would be Bernadette Nason, who stars in Onstage Theatre Company's production

Arts Review

Shirley Valentine

Austin Playhouse, through July 30

An idyllic escape to the Greek Isles is virtually irresistible anyway, but when the chief goal is to get as far as possible from suburban malaise, no "desperate housewife" could say no. Still, while everyone would expect a hot mama from Wisteria Lane to visit such an exotic location, almost no one would imagine that a pallid, working-class housewife from Northern England would go.

Well, Shirley Bradshaw has plenty of reasons to make that trip. Her children have grown up and left the house, leaving her with no one to talk to but the wall of her empty nest (and sometimes, apparently, the wall responds). She's still forced to play mother, though, to her short-tempered husband, Joe, anticipating the moment he puts his foot through the door so she can have his food set on the table. ("Marriage is like the Middle East," Shirley tells us. "There's no solution.") And when her daughter comes home to live, she expects Shirley to go back into full auto-matron mode. Stuck in a domestic rut and underappreciated by her family, Shirley Bradshaw wants to be her old self – Shirley Valentine, the assertive adventurer – again.

So Shirley takes off for Corfu, a popular British getaway, leaving only some frozen dinners and a note for her husband: "Gone to Greece." She buys sexy lingerie. She gets a tan. She talks to the Greek rock. She meets Costas, the Greek barkeep who sweeps her off her feet and onto his boat and whom she dubs Christopher Columbus for rediscovering her orgasm. By the end of the play, she has groped her way to independence. While Willy Russell's script has a feminist flavor to it, it is also a fairy tale of life on the rebound. As if emerging from a cocoon, Shirley has been transformed, her middle-aged frump gone.

Only one woman in Austin could play this clever, middle-aged Engishwoman – who has more words to recite than Hamlet – with the charismatic hold of a storyteller, and that would be Bernadette Nason, who stars in this Onstage Theatre Company production. Casting aside her own seemingly perfect elocution, Nason saturates her story in Liverpudlian dialect to regale us with the anecdote of how she fed her husband's steak to a vegetarian bloodhound, her views on the female orgasm, and her mistaken initial pronunciation of the female genitalia. Nason's joyful eyes pop wistfully into the faces of people of different ages, sexes, and cultural origins. (Her face gets gruff as Costas: "You 'fraid I wan' make fuck with you?") Nason has a natural glow throughout the play; even in the very beginning when she's all dressed in English dark gray, she's luminous. And at the end, when she draws the tale to a close with a wink and a life lesson that says, "Life is for living," Nason, like all good storytellers, leaves you wanting a little more.

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Shirley Valentine, Onstage Theatre Company, Bernadette Nason

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