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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 1, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 5
This 'Valentine' could be sweeter
Arts & Entertainment
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This 'Valentine' could be sweeter

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

SHIRLEY VALENTINE
ARTSWEST PLAYHOUSE
Through February 16


The play currently at ArtsWest, Shirley Valentine, stars the talented and capable Heather Hawkins in a solo performance of substance. However, while Hawkins is a charming and easy-to-watch actor and manages the role with relative ease, the production has some missteps - likely attributable to choices director Christopher Zinovitch makes - that detract from the overall effect.

Also, the content of the play is no longer challenging, nor does it really ask us to consider anything new, so it doesn't fit ArtsWest's stated mission (productions 'so fiercely compelling that they require conversation') very well. It is a story of a British woman who believes she no longer has anything exciting left to live for, now that her kids are grown and she and her husband have settled into such an expected path of life that she gets yelled at for not including meat with the eggs-and-chips that her husband is expecting upon arrival after work.

We don't see the husband chide her, of course, but she tells us about it, and about all the other limiting factors in her life that make her feel like she can't even consider using the free ticket to Greece that a friend has just handed her. Even without having seen the movie, we know that she will go to Greece anyway, and it will change her life and allow her to break free of her limiting beliefs.

OBSTACLES TO ENJOYMENT
Hawkins starts out by introducing herself and her life at such speed that there is no thoughtfulness about it, making it difficult to like her or to enjoy jokes that are swallowed by more words. The audience must also cope with her character's Liverpool accent, which takes some getting used to. The speed seems dictated by director Zinovitch, especially since later, as Hawkins settles into the character more, her natural thoughtfulness comes to the fore and the performance is rather more assured.

Shirley talks to the 'wall' in her kitchen. But while doing so, Hawkins seems directed to look at the audience, and toss occasional glances at either of the side walls of the kitchen. This is oddly done. There are more graceful ways of establishing her talking to herself via the wall, and to the audience. It is an uneasy lack of focus.

The opening set of Shirley's tiny kitchen flat, also designed by Zinovitch (with Jill Beasley), is nicely done, but is pushed way up against the front of ArtsWest's large stage space, within a foot of the front row. For those seated in that row, it's claustrophobia-inducing.

Another awkward aspect is the music inserted by Peter Fleming, who is credited as 'composer/sound design.' The sound design is fine, with storm and other effects as called for. But the music appears all of a sudden, with no apparent need or connection to what is said, and disappears as suddenly and as disconnectedly.

These all seem directorial choices that overcome the production rather than serve it. Hawkins ultimately triumphs, as her character evolves through the play into a more assured woman who believes in herself and what she deserves. For more information, go to www.artswest.org or call (206) 938-0339.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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