, Salem, MA


May 15, 2014

Talkin' to the wall

'Shirley Valentine' plays off audience response

John Fogle thought “Shirley Valentine” would please the audience at Salem Theatre Company.

“We have a lot of women who come here,” said Fogle, the company’s artistic director. “The majority of the decision makers who come here are women — they decide who goes where in cultural events.”

The middle-aged woman at the center of this play, by contrast, has little control over her life.

As “Shirley Valentine” opens, the title character is cooking dinner for her husband, who is rarely pleased with anything she does.

“I always said I’d leave him when the kids grew up,” she says in the first scene. “But by the time they’d grown up, there was nowhere to go. Well, you don’t start again at 42, do you?”

Valentine, who has always wanted to travel, is trying to decide whether to accept an offer to take an exotic trip.

She is the only character in the play, which was written by Willy Russell and was first performed in 1988, and she discusses her decision with the wall.

“I hate a life of talkin’ to the wall,” she says. “But I’ve been talkin’ to the wall for more years than I care to remember now. And I’m frightened. I’m frightened of life beyond the wall.”

While it underscores her loneliness and isolation, Valentine’s dialogue with the wall brings her closer to the audience.

“The audience is the wall,” said Lida McGirr, who plays Valentine. “They’re part of the play, and hopefully, they’re with you. A lot of what you’re doing is off the relationship you develop with the audience. We’re all going for a ride together.”

McGirr had her own moment of decision about 20 years ago, when she returned to the theater after raising her children.

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