For many years Ricky Graham has been known as the clown prince of New Orleans. Quite clearly he has the ability to do it all – act, sing, dance, write, direct and produce. But like the veritable rolling stone, Graham has never been content to rest on his laurels and he is constantly looking for new ways to express his artistic brilliance. With one brilliant felt swoop he has considerably ramped up his acting chops and advanced his cross dressing skills. That’s because Graham is the title character in Southern Repertory’s…er….one “woman” show, “Shirley Valentine.”
For those who are unfamiliar, Willy Russell wrote the play back in the 1980s to describe a beleaguered British housewife from Liverpool, who is tired of her drudgery and the empty nest she feels after raising her kids and being left alone with a controlling and demanding husband. The character is seen as a 50-something who realizes much of her life has been spent taking care of others and that she has never truly lived for herself. When the opportunity arises for her to accompany a friend on a fortnight trip to Greece, she jumps at it literally and figuratively.
While Graham’s Liverpudlian accent bears a trifle hint of a Chalmette flavour, his acting skills are nonetheless flawless. Directed by Marieke Gaboury, “Shirley Valentine” is a captivating experience with Graham holding center stage and keeping the audience’s rapt attention as “she” accounts for the dreary life she experiences daily and how she so much wants to break free. Graham plays the role with sensitivity and tenderness, especially in the second act when the character of Shirley Valentine undergoes some major life altering transformations.
With this role Graham proves he can never be underestimated or compartmentalized. His Shirley Valentine is sharp-witted, insightful, playful and passionate. Graham’s character is a living, breathing housewife that is altogether endearing and charming. Quite rightly, he plays the role with determination and what comedic touches are found are sincere and never forced. Indeed, while some may now regard him as the clown “princess” of New Orleans, the obvious question to be answered is: shall he be nominated as a Best Actor or Best Actress for this role?
After two nights of previews “Shirley Valentine” opens tonight, closing Southern Repertory’s topsy turvy season at the Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp Street, the venue at which it will reside for this month. The show continues through May 27. For ticket information call 504-522-6545 or purchase online by clicking here.