“Each time I revisit her,” remarks actress Mary Gannon Graham, “I discover something wonderful and new. You can’t play a character two or three times, in two or three different productions, without discovering lots of new things.”
Graham (Always, Patsy Cline, Souvenir) is describing the character of Shirley Valentine, the primary character in Willy Russell’s enduring one-woman show of the same name. Graham first played Shirley—whom she describes as “a frumpy English housewife who goes to Greece and changes her whole life”—in 2008, in a production directed by John Shillington. They reprised the show in 2011, playing to sold-out crowds. Later this month, they’ll be bringing Shirley back one more time, with a four-weekend run at Main Stage West.
“I’m not the same person I was when I first played this character,” Graham says. “Some of those life changes will probably appear in Shirley, one way or another. It’s just what happens when you play a character honestly, in the moment. Who that character is becomes fused with who you are, right then and there.”
For Taylor Bartolucci, it’s more or less the same. “I’m just excited to be playing a stripper again,” she laughs.
It’s only been a few months since Bartolucci first played Pippi, the broken-hearted stripper in the delightfully trashy Great American Trailer Park Musical, which enjoyed a sold-out run at Sixth Street Playhouse last September. The hit show begins an encore run later this month at the Napa Valley Playhouse, and Bartolucci is thrilled for a second chance to slip into Pippi’s skimpy stripper’s outfit.
“Trailer Park,” she says, “was the most fun I’ve had in any show I’ve ever done in my life. But it was a challenge for me. I don’t usually show off that much, um, skin. Still, it’s fun to play somebody who you’re totally not.”
Directed by Barry Martin, the show has kept its entire cast, with the exception of Daniela Innocenti Beam, whose back surgery forced her to drop out. Her character, trailer park manager Betty, will be played this time by Sarah Lundstrom.
“A lot of people saw this show as just fluff,” Bartolucci says, “but we saw these characters as real people, with real problems and real emotions. We hope people will see it a second or third time—and maybe see it in a whole new way.”