“Shirley Valentine” at Arts West

If you were a working class, middle-aged English woman whose life is one dull day after another with a husband who treats you with as much respect as he gives his worn-out slippers, how would you react if someone offered you a free two-week vacation in Greece? That’s Shirley Valentine’s dilemma. What an opportunity! Does she dare take it?

Heather Hawkins’ was made to play Shirley, both before and after. Initially as the downtrodden housewife she clumps onto the stage carrying grocery bags to the kitchen and immediately sets about making dinner. She has a deadline. Joe expects his food on the table the minute he returns from work. God help her if she fails to oblige.

Hawkins epitomizes the woman stuck in a disappointing marriage. Since Shirley can’t exchange ideas with her husband she talks to the wall. And what brio Hawkins brings to Shirley’s tart, funny, spicy comments on sex, marriage and men. Hawkins bears witness to the longing trapped beneath the acceptance of what Shirley’s become.

After much deliberation Shirley accepts her friend’s invitation, doesn’t tell Joe, just flies off for what turns out to be a transformational experience. The haggard, downtrodden housewife is reborn. In Hawkins’ hands, Shirley’s natural gaiety, wit, and sense of adventure are let loose. Her rebirth is totally believable.

It’s unfortunate that as much attention wasn’t given to the set as to the performance. There are niggling little things like wine that looks like water. But the major weakness is the whole second act set. It seems more suitable for a high school performance than a professional theatre.

It’s Willy Russell’s award-winning script and Heather Hawkins’ performance that make this worth seeing.

Through Feb. 16 at Arts West Playhouse at 4711 California Ave. S.W., Seattle (206 938-0339 or www.artswest.org)

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