Shirley Valentine at Berkshire Theatre Group, Stockbridge, MA

You will fall in love with Corinna May as Shirley Valentine at Berkshire Theatre Company’s current production. Running through October 24th at the company’s Unicorn Theatre location in Stockbridge, MA, the play is a “one hander” … a monologue … a solo performance that brought the opening night audience to its feet with rapturous applause. May is, simply stated, brilliant.

Willy Russell’s play was originally a commissioned work which premiered at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool, England in 1986. In the spirit of “the show must go on,” when the original Shirley came down with appendicitis during its run, Russell, himself, stepped into the role and became Shirley Valentine for three weeks.

A London West End run soon followed, which led to a New York opening directed by Simon Callow and starring Pauline Collins. The play was showered with awards and attracted such theatrical giants as Ellen Burstyn and Loretta Swit.

Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware.

Which leads us to the magic of Corinna May on the Larry Vaber Stage at the Unicorn. She makes us laugh. She challenges us with her insight and honesty. She makes us call into question the most basic elements of relationship. She allows us to fall in love.

Shirley Valentine is a middle aged mother of two who has seen her life slip into the boredom of routine, a marriage without communication and an unfulfilled longing to simply be herself. From her kitchen, where she comfortably speaks to the wall, to taking the “leap of faith” required to accept a two week holiday in Greece paid for by her best friend – a holiday where she finds a rock to converse with as well as the liberated moments of finding herself, Shirley Valentine blossoms in front of our very eyes.

Corinna May is so convincing, so charming in her conflicts and resolutions, so comfortable on stage making a supper of “eggs and chips” for her ungrateful husband while honestly revealing who she has become that we end up feeling like we’ve known her for years. May weaves the story of her rebellious youth, her descent into middle-aged boredom and her exuberant self-discovery in such a engaging way that the audience almost needs to be reminded to breathe.

Eric Hill’s direction blends with May’s performance so well that the creative work seamlessly becomes one performance. Hill has a list of wonderfully turned out productions on the Berkshire Theatre Group stages and has continues to present exceptional work.

The technical and craft credits of Shirley Valentine are all first rate. Randall Parsons’ scenic design, Elivia Bovenzi Blitz’s costumes, Matthew Adelson’s lighting design and J Hagenbuckle’s sound design are so seamless that whether we are in a Liverpool kitchen or overlooking the ocean on a Greek island, we are immediately transported to be in the moment. Special recognition of Jennifer Scapetis-Tycer’s dialect coaching is deserved. Corinna May never drops her delightful accent. She speaks as if she were recently transported from the row houses of Liverpool to Stockbridge, MA, which is a glowing tribute to her uncanny ability and Ms. Blitz’s coaching skills.

Shirley Valentine plays until October 24th with tickets available at 413-997-4444 or on line at Don’t delay. It’s time to revel in Shirley Valentine, and to fall in love.

Photo by Jacey Rae Russell