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'Valentine' mixes adult drama, comedy

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If the walls could only talk ...

But there are no talking walls in Shirley Valentine’s kitchen — just a lonely woman whose words and thoughts, desperate to be sorted out and expressed, echo off the presence of an invisible wall.

“Shirley Valentine,” a play by Willy Russell, is in production at Hubbard Hall under the direction of John Hadden and starring the versatile Christine Decker. Regular attendees may remember Decker for her dexterity and multiplicity of roles in Hubbard Hall’s March production of “Macbeth.”

Once again, Hubbard Hall Theater Company has shown creativity that transcends the confines of the hall’s proscenium stage. Enter the theater and arrive in Shirley’s “life behind the wall,” a set designed and constructed by Ken Lorenz and Benjie White to depict a modest 1980s Liverpool kitchen, complete with a “brown blob” of a stove — as Shirley puts it; Weetabix and pop atop the fridge; and dishtowels that reside in serendipitous heaps upon the counter. The set, with its bulky appliances and staunch wooden table, exude a simple solidarity that reaffirms the fixed routines of Shirley’s life. The stage-on-the-floor concept closes the gap between audience and actor.

The story is simple. Shirley wanted to go everywhere, and never went anywhere. And so, she ended up marrying Joe Bradshaw, and living a monotonous life in Liverpool. Sipping a glass of Riesling — which is the sole touch of elegance in her tea-towel life — Shirley peels potatoes and reveals her travails to the wall.

Decker falls into the role of the regretful Liverpool housewife as easily as she chucks the chips of potato into the saucepan. She puts the audience in stiches with her soliloquies — almost to the point of tears, and then turns her emotions inside out to reveal the regretful side of her story: the questions about her life; and the bewilderment as to what happened to it. And suddenly the knee-slapping chortles of the audience slip away into introspective silence.

Hadden (artistic director of Hubbard Hall Theater Company) has deftly met the challenge of guiding the realization of many characters and personalities through one actor. Through his direction and Decker’s mimicking of other characters in Shirley’s life, we come to know her disenchanted son; her quasi-independent daughter; her uncommunicative husband; and her contradictory friends and neighbors.

Suddenly, Shirley’s little world is upset, because mixed in with the chips and eggs; the laundry; the husband who doesn’t talk to her; the children who’ve grown up — there comes a catalyst. A plane ticket for a trip to Greece with a friend. The ticket’s uneasy presence in her pocketbook threatens to explode her world. Could it be a chance to rescue Shirley Valentine from behind the wall of a “wasted life”? And what will she find in Greece, should she go? An epiphany, perhaps: a romance; a reality; a revelation of self?

Costuming (courtesy of Decker and Shakespeare and Co.) is a visual expression of Shirley’s metamorphosis from the aproned caterpillar of a resigned housewife, to the sparkling black-and-white jacket chrysalis of a determined soul, to an exuberant butterfly of a woman, ensconced in wings of a flamboyant silk.

Scott Renzoni (a frequent actor in Hubbard Hall Theater Company productions) uses sound effects to usher the audience into the story. In Act I, Shirley’s radio broadcasts an unbearable “happy” playlist of music from the 1960s and 1970s, an ironic accompaniment to her tedious chores. Also notable are the opening sounds of Act II, designed to draw on the stereotypical associations of seashore sounds with summertime and romance.

This play offers a revelation of character through vivacious comedy, sorrowful reflections and individualistic epiphany — another great production by Hubbard Hall Theater Company.

Venture beyond your walls to Hubbard Hall this weekend and become part of Shirley’s wall — and part of Shirley’s world.

If you go

Hubbard Hall Theater Company presents “Shirley Valentine” at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at 25 E. Main St. in Cambridge. The play, which also runs May 10 through 12, has adult themes, and contains mature situations and profanity. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 677-2495.


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