Joanne Fayan is fabulous in 2nd Story Theatre’s one-woman play ‘Shirley Valentine’

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Shirley Valentine, played by Joanne Fayan, in Shirley Valentine, now playing upstage at 2nd Story Theatre. [2nd Story Theatre photo]
Shirley Valentine, played by Joanne Fayan, in Shirley Valentine, now playing upstage at 2nd Story Theatre. [2nd Story Theatre photo]

If you can endure the somewhat uneventful first act of 2nd Story Theatre’s wonderful production of “Shirley Valentine,” you’re in for a treat when an aging British housewife, who’s a bit of a lost soul, learns the secret of life on vacation in Greece.

Playwright Willy Russell has come up with a sweet tale that stops short of being sugary. And Joanne Fayan, this one-woman play’s star, is fabulous. Fayan has always been a shining star at 2nd Story, but this is perhaps her best effort, as she commands the stage for close to two hours, at times funny, blunt and insightful in a very down-to-earth sort of way.

Fayan’s Shirley is just 42, but feeling life has passed her by, that she has all this “unused life.” Ditto for husband Joe.

So despite being terrified, Shirley packs her bags and heads off with friend Jane to Greece, which might just as well have been boarding a rocket to the unknown.

Shirley is not terribly sophisticated, but she knows in her heart there is more to life. And she’s able to face her fears, take the plunge and learn to live.

Joanne Fayan plays the title role, in Shirley Valentine, now playing upstage at 2nd Story Theatre. [2nd Story Theatre photo]
Joanne Fayan plays the title role, in Shirley Valentine, now playing upstage at 2nd Story Theatre. [2nd Story Theatre photo]
Her teacher on this journey of emotional awakening is an attractive restaurateur, who offers to show her the islands on his boat. She is more than a little hesitant, falling back on old fears and the habit of passing up opportunities.

But Costas goads her. “You’re afraid,” he says.

And the next thing Shirley knows, she is standing naked on the side of his boat, ready to dive into waters that are as deep as forever.

You might expect long-repressed Shirley to fall apart at this point. It is true she is reluctant to return to her drab life in England, but she emerges from her Greek epiphany much wiser and saner.

She has not fallen in love with Costas, with the pristine beaches and quaint tavernas. She has, she says, “fallen in love with the idea of living.”

And that makes it hard to return to a dead-end life in England, because she is not the woman she used to be. But she is not willing to abandon her life altogether.

Again, the first act is a little slow. True, there are some humorous bits, like when Shirley talks about discovering her sexuality.

But it is not until the second act that this wonderful play comes to life, when director Mark Peckham awakens the warm heart of Russell’s tender tale, one we can all learn from.

“Shirley Valentine” runs through April 10 at 2nd Story Theater, 28 Market St., Warren. Tickets are $35, $25 for those age 25 and under. Call (401) 247-4200, or visit 2ndstorytheatre.com.