‘Shirley Valentine’ comes to Malibu

Jacalynne Flax stars in "Shirley Valentine" opening Friday at the Malibu Stage Co.

The Tony Award-winning play is “not just for women who have lost dreams but is the story of every man who feels lost and has put goals and dreams on the back burner.”

By Ryan O’Quinn/Special to The Malibu Times

This Friday, the Malibu Stage Co. will present the opening weekend of the Tony Award-winning comedy, “Shirley Valentine.” Willy Russell’s play premiered in London’s West End in 1988, and tells the true story of a middle-class housewife who dreams of escaping her ordinary life to find adventure and romance in Greece.

In 1990, the show opened on Broadway and was eventually made into a feature film starring Pauline Collins. It garnered numerous accolades, including the Tony and multiple Drama Desk and Olivier awards.

Veteran actress Jacalynne Flax is reprising her role as the title character after having performed the show for the last five years in the Palm Springs area. Originally from England, Flax appeared in numerous stage productions in London and various films and television shows. Her portrayal of Valentine in the Coachella Valley received rave reviews, and she shared billing at casinos and theaters around Palm Springs with the likes of Bill Cosby. Her husband, Peter, is directing this production of “Shirley Valentine.”

Flax said the play is timeless, and audiences get very involved in what is happening on stage. The one-woman show follows the character of Shirley Valentine through the schedule of a normal day including routine tasks such as making dinner. Valentine ponders aloud the notion of leaving her life in search of something better.

“It becomes a very intimate, personal experience,” Flax noted. “You attach yourself to the protagonist and go through this journey with her.”

Flax also pointed out that the story is not just for women who have lost dreams but is the story of every man who feels lost and has put goals and dreams on the back burner.

“I get to talk to a lot of people after the show and a lot of people say that even though this is 2004, this is still very relevant,” Flax said. “We progress and create all these wonderful things like e-mail and cell phones to save us time and yet we still don’t have time to focus on us.”

Audiences have agreed that the show is relevant and have continued to turn out en masse, many times more than once. Flax said a 12-week contract in Palm Springs turned into a two-year run and several fans from that area will be making the trek to Malibu when the show opens.

“There really is nothing dated about it,” Flax said. “Her story has been a springboard for so much in women’s lives. We do mind-numbing things in our lives where we just run away. [The show] is an hour and a half of reflection and humor.”

Flax said she was looking to bring the show to a venue in Los Angeles, and after shopping it around to various theaters she and her husband decided on Malibu Stage Co.

“I’m really happy to bring this to L.A.,” Flax said. “I’m especially pleased to be in Malibu. It’s just beautiful here.”

The Stage Co.’s board president, Jacqueline Bridgeman also said she was thrilled she was able to bring the show to Malibu.

Flax is also excited about the possibility of meeting the real Shirley Valentine. Malibuite Richard Chesterfield is the brother-in-law of the woman about whom the play was written.

“Shirley Valentine is a real person,” attested Chesterfield, owner of Monrose Catering in Malibu. “Shirley went to school with [playwright] Willy Russell.”

Chesterfield complimented Flax, saying there is a great similarity between her and the real Valentine. His company will be preparing the food for the opening night gala and said he is going to try to get Shirley Valentine to attend in person sometime during the run.

Opening night is Friday, and the play will run through Sept. 12 at the Malibu Stage Co. located at 29243 Pacific Coast Highway. Reservations and more information can be obtained by calling 310.589.1998.