Christine Decker says that at first glance there is little resemblance between her and the character she plays in “Shirley Valentine,” which opens Friday at Hubbard Hall in Cambridge.
“She’s a married woman with grown-up kids, which I am not,” said Decker, who first performed Willy Russell’s one-woman show 15 years ago in Florida. “But the play still speaks to me personally. Her quest for self-discovery? Absolutely. Her sense of humor in the face of adversity? Absolutely.”
“Shirley Valentine” was first produced as a play in London in 1988 with Pauline Collins in the title role, a character she would reprise on Broadway and in the 1989 Hollywood movie. Russell, a British playwright, lyricist and composer, also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
Earlier, he had written “Educating Rita” (1980) and “Blood Brothers” (1983) for the London stage, two shows that also became successful movies. “Shirley Valentine” was nominated for a Tony as Best Play, while Collins won a Tony for her stage performance and was also nominated for an Oscar in the film version.
WHERE: Hubbard Hall, 25 E. Main St., Cambridge
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through May 12
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: 677-2495, www.hubbardhall.org
“‘Shirley Valentine’ is about a woman . . . who is middle-aged, her kids are gone, and she is given this opportunity by a friend to go to Greece,” said Decker, explaining the story line. “She knows it’s going to be difficult to do this because her husband is quite conventional. He wants her to be at home.”
Shirley, however, feels like she’s in something of a rut and wants a little break from being a working-class Liverpool housewife. When her best friend wins a trip for two to Greece, Shirley packs her bags and takes off for the Mediterranean for two weeks of leisure time.
“Shirley’s kind of struggling with her identity,” said Decker, who performed previously at Hubbard Hall in “The Madwoman of Chaillot,” “Macbeth,” and “The Night of the Iguana.” “She might be having a midlife crisis, and while she’s probably a bit undereducated, she is very intelligent and kind of undergoes this renaissance. She is a deep thinker, and the first act is her kind of talking things out in her kitchen, while she’s preparing supper for her husband, and then the second act she’s on her trip.”
“Shirley Valentine” is the only one-woman show on Decker’s résumé.
“I’ve done two-person shows before, but it’s pretty challenging being up there by yourself,” she said. “You don’t have that relationship with another actor, so in a sense the audience becomes your partner. I did a lot of improvisational work in the past, and that helps. But what you’re doing is telling the audience a story and you’re doing a bit of stand-up comedy.”
Decker is a native of Cambridge but has spent much of the past 20 years working for Disney in Florida. Before that, she went to Bard College and then spent time in Boston and Arizona before heading to Orlando.
Acting always a passion
“I became a technical illustrator after college, and kind of did the acting thing on the side,” said Decker, who recently returned to upstate New York to again make Cambridge her home. “Then I had a great job working for Disney doing improv at ‘Pleasure Island,’ a venue that no longer exists. But it was great fun and I had a nice salary for a long time. I would come up here on vacation to replenish my soul, and I started doing a few things at Oldcastle Theatre in Bennington [Vermont].”
That led to a few gigs at Hubbard Hall, where she is now something of a regular and very happy to be directed by Hubbard Hall Theater Company artistic director John Hadden.
“He’s an inspired director who has really helped keep this show fresh,” said Decker. “It’s the same words, but I feel like John deconstructed the show and then reconstructed it, and I also feel like I have more insight than I did 15 years ago.”
While acting hasn’t always been part of Decker’s professional life, it has always been her passion.
“It’s the thing I do best, and I never feel more vital than when I’m doing it,” Decker said of performing. “It’s kind of like my religion, and acting, stage acting in particular, is such a pure art form. I was an artist, too, but that can get lonely. Acting is a collaborative art form, and while ‘Shirley Valentine’ gets a little lonely, I love the whole process of working with other people to create something. That’s what makes theater so great.”