Arts & Culture

Stepping outside of Shirley Valentine

Like the character in Willy Russell’s play “Shirley Valentine,” actress Susan Greenhill had a choice to make: Should she or shouldn’t she?

As she sat for a recent interview at Florida Studio Theatre, the answer was obvious — she did.

Greenhill signed up for her first one-woman show with “Shirley Valentine,” which opens Wednesday at FST.

The dramatic comedy is about a housewife who dares to live outside of her boxed-up life when a new friend wins a trip to Greece. The friend wants Shirley to come along, leaving her comforts behind. But with a husband who refuses to travel and being unadventurous herself, Shirley wonders if she should take the plunge in the first place. She learns much about herself through the process.

Even before Greenhill got her feet wet in this play, she could relate to Shirley’s circumstances.

“Like Shirley, I was like ‘OK, if this door has opened do I have the courage to walk through it?,’ ” Greenhill said. “I have only regretted the times I’ve said no. Never the times I’ve said yes.”

In the play, Greenhill portrays Shirley, her husband, her children, the neighbor and her best friend. Through the characters, the audience sees how Shirley’s life has been neatly filed under wife and mother but nothing more.

Director Kate Alexander likes the subtle message Russell relays through this story, which silently asks audience members of the roles they fill and if life in general has met their expectations.

Greenhill admires those who are brave enough to actually make those dreams come true or, like Shirley, at least dare to think about it.

Greenhill said her character is funny and touching. Though she finds the play interesting, the actress knew she’d have a lot on her plate with a role like this.

But Alexander and artistic director Richard Hopkins were confident in Greenhill’s abilities. Besides appearing in FST’s winter production of “. . . and L.A. is Burning” and last season’s “Southern Comforts,” Greenhill has had guest roles on hit TV series such as “Guiding Light,” “Law & Order” and the “Chapelle Show.”

“This play is all over the place,” she said of the Olivier Award-winning piece. “She’s on the floor weeping a la a classical tragedy and then in the next moment you have Tracey Ullman. . . . (Russell) wrote it beautifully, and I just want to step up to the plate for it and inhabit it fully so that everybody has a good time,” she said.

“Then I’ll tell you at the end if I want to do one again.”

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