'Marriage is like the Middle East," Shirley Bradshaw says. "There's no solution." Shirley is speaking to Wall -- her kitchen wall, which she addresses by name, as there is no one else to listen. Certainly not her husband, Joe, even when he's home. Fortunately for us, Wall is that invisible theater space between audience and performer. During some shows, I've fervently wished the wall was opaque.
This is not one of those shows.
Broad Hollow's production of "Shirley Valentine" at BayWay Arts Center is remarkable in several respects. First, Willy Russell wrote beautiful, believable lines like the one quoted above. They're sprinkled throughout the monologue that has endeared Shirley to audiences since 1986 and inspired the 1989 film of the same name.
Second, Linda May in the title role -- the only role -- surpasses her own high standards. I've long admired May's onstage craftsmanship and praised her performances. I know she's acting as she delivers the lines she has impressively memorized and internalized, but at the same time, she makes us forget she's an actress. She becomes Shirley Valentine.
Third, this is the final show directed for BroadHollow by Patricia Zaback, who founded the company 40 years ago and who announced her retirement last week. May has rehearsed with her since October, mostly at the Zabacks' Hauppauge home, where husband Jerry often cooked dinner. There's a touch of home in this "Shirley Valentine" that goes beyond the actual "cooker" -- the stove on which Shirley prepares "chips and eggs." There's a home of the heart that Shirley carries with her, even as she flees her unfulfilled housewife life in Liverpool for a fortnight holiday in Greece.
For those unfamiliar with Shirley's story, Valentine is her maiden name. She wonders what ever became of that person, now subsumed by Shirley Bradshaw, wife and mother of two grown children.
Bob Butterley's dual set captures her kitchen-prison and, with a postcard backdrop, suggests her exotic escape, accented by Erick Creegan's cheerful lighting. (Despite her regrets, Shirley is never pessimistic.) Jason Allyn's costume designs adhere to middlebrow, middle-age tastes, while dialect coach Lesley Wade directs May in an accessibly generic Brit direction.
Friends of Shirley, whom we only hear about, describe her as brave, which also applies to this moving portrait. In the program, May pays tribute to her mother, who died during rehearsals.
Her name was Shirley.
INFO $25 (discounts for advance purchases), broadhollow.org, 631-581-2700