The extraordinary tour de force performance of Helena de Crespo in “Shirley Valentine” at Oregon Stage Works has made the one-woman-show a phenomenal success. Many who have seen the production see it again and bring their friends.
Helena de Crespo engages her audience in the interior monologue of Shirley Valentine, a woman struggling to reinvent herself at a time in life when the empty nest has become a solitary cage. Shirley Valentine weaves her saucy tales with “a laugh and a joke for everything.”
Helena’s performance reflects her exceptional talent, education and experience, plus her spirit of adventure and pure unadulterated courage. As Helena and I lunched on the deck at Callahan’s Restaurant, she gave me a few insights into her life in the theater.
HdC: I think being in the theater has prepared me for whatever the recession may bring because, as a performer, you never know what the next job is going to be, where it’s going to be, how it’s going to be, so you are ready to turn on a dime or take on another part time job. I haven’t spent my entire life in a dressing room or a film studio, but that has been the thrust of my experience.
EH: You went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) when you were 15?
HdC: I also concurrently did the course for the drama diploma at London University. It was wonderful, but it was more academic. And that course never took jurisdiction over the RADA courses which were the acting, the voice, the speech, the fencing and all the hundred-and-one things that we did for RADA.
Then I was offered my first contract in Inverness, Scotland. I packed my trunk and went off overnight on the train. I was all about 17 or 18. That was my first proper job. My second professional job was with the Bristol Old Vic. And then I began performing all over the country.
EH: How did you get to the United States?
HdC: Joan Fontaine had seen me and wanted me to play her daughter. It was called “Hillary.” It was one of those arch-pseudo Noel Coward-type comedies. We closed in San Francisco. That took me to Hollywood for the first time. I worked for Lucille Ball; I was at Desilu. I did a series. She was head of the studio then. She had a series called “Fair Exchange.” I was in that. Eddie Foy was in it. I’m just waiting for it to be revived, so I get another check.
EH: So how was it that you came to Portland?
HdC: The show I did there was “Sheer Madness” about a hairdressing salon. Then I worked for Portland Center Stage. And that’s when Don (Horn) couldn’t cast “Shirley Valentine,” so he called Chris Coleman at Portland Center Stage, and Chris said, “Well, I think the only person in town that could do that, is Helena.” And that was how I started. And of course Don was delighted with me, because we extended — it was making a lot of money and he was ecstatic. And then the next thing I did for him was “Driving Miss Daisy.” And then he found Alan Bennett’s “Talking Heads.”
EH: Your “Talking Heads” tour ended in Singapore?
HdC: No, I’m available. The tour hasn’t ended. Here I am. I’ve got the set that goes in the back of my car. I’ve had all my clothes made for me. I’m all ready to go.
“Shirley Valentine” has been held over through Aug. 24, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Monday, and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets and information, call 482-2334 or visitwww.oregonstageworks.net.
Evalyn Hansen is a resident of Ashland. She has a bachelor's degree in dramatic arts from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master's degree from San Francisco State University. She trained as an actor at the American Conservatory Theatre, and is a founding member of San Francisco's Magic Theatre. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.