The only bad thing about the incredible theatre renaissance in Savannah is that I don’t get to see most of the shows out there. Like anyone else I have a family and outside interests, and unfortunately can’t enjoy many of the cultural events we write about at Connect.
Still, on Saturday night I managed to catch Shirley Valentine at Savannah Community Theatre at Victory and Skidaway (behind Savannah Childrens Theatre in the old Belk’s building). There were plenty of other fine offerings around town to choose from, including Savannah Actors Theatre’s Pillowman, directed by Sheila Lynne and which got great word-of-mouth, A Midnight Cry, directed by the great D. J. Queenan, and several more.
But I chose Shirley at Tom Coleman’s place for several reasons: The play, a warm, human and touching comedy about a middle-aged English woman finding herself, is a one-woman show. I figure any actor brave and capable enough to take on a full-length play all by her lonesome deserves to have as many people watching as possible.
Secondly, the one woman in question is Grace Diaz Tootle, certainly Savannah’s finest actor at this point and also a longtime friend with whom I’ve done several productions over the years.
Tootle had great material to work with: Willy Russell’s script is a model blend of accessible humor and concise brevity. There are no dead spots, and not a single word which does not advance the late blooming of Shirley Valentine as she adventures from her humble English flat to a seaside taverna in Greece, sans husband.
Tootle navigates her way with calm confidence and a sincere rapport with the audience in the intimate space at Savannah Community Theatre. How calm? During the first act, she cooks an entire meal of “chips and eggs” while performing. It smelled so good I nearly joined her onstage to eat it.
I’m a stickler about accents. Few things tick me off more than an actor who’s too lazy to get an accent right. (And don’t get me started on how Hollywood insists on casting actors straight out of Brooklyn to play Southerners.) But Tootle absolutely nails -- about 98 percent of the time, anyway -- a spot-on working-class English accent, with seemingly little effort.
Shirley Valentine continues the next two weekends. Cheerio, y’all!
E-mail Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org