And so it came to pass that one Shirley Valentine, a homemaker in Liverpool who talks constantly to her wall, decided to go far beyond her wall. Her recently divorced lady friend wanted company on a trip to Greece and offered stuck-at-home Shirley airplane tickets.

This was in the '80s, when British towns like Liverpool were prone to be working class for men, not women. That's changed; a study last year reported that more British women are working than ever before (although many have part-time jobs) - about 70 percent of all women there. That's 10 percent more than the U.S. government tally for working women here.

So I suspected the Hedgerow Theatre production of Shirley Valentine, a one-woman show successful on Broadway in 1984, might come off dated.

But the feeling of being trapped in an everyday life is not confined to people without work identities.

It turns out that the Shirley Valentine character playwright Willy Russell created is so engaging and thoroughly appealing that the time warp in this story about a woman who could nowadays travel easily on a cheap inter-European fare doesn't even register.

Russell also wrote the screenplay, and both the stage and film versions of Educating Rita. In Shirley Valentine, he sets us up with a woman of 52, her children grown, her (offstage) husband more a demanding roommate than a partner, and her routine just the daily doldrums of frying chips and chunks of meat for dinner.

She has her eye on slipping off to that vacation in Greece. She has little idea of what it would be like - except that it would be different. She craves different.

In a portrayal that nails the woman, Susan Wefel brings her to life without a trace of self-deprecation; even when Shirley tells us about the way she was treated as a dummy at school, it's the school system and not Shirley that seems at fault. How could anyone call Wefel's Shirley - dying for a challenge but unsure how to challenge even herself - stupid?

Wefel, who has acted for 32 years at Hedgerow, in Rose Valley near Media, portrays Shirley without a trace of irony, adding subtle but substantial power to the character, diminished only a little by a few lines she drops when she crunches the words together in her English accent.

At Hedgerow, particularly in the farces the theater has made a trademark, Wefel has a penchant for haughty and dizzy; in Shirley Valentine, she shows a real talent for bringing out the Everywoman dimension of a character who is clearly not everywoman.

Tom Teti, the veteran actor who has built much of his career at People's Light & Theatre Company, directs Shirley Valentine with impressive restraint in the staging. He lets Wefel sit and stay in place for minutes at a time as she spins her stories and commentary - when she does move from one part of Zoran Kovcic's set to another, it feels natural, as though we had come for tea. Steven Carpenter and Rachel Alulis light the scenes nicely, and Cathie Miglionico's costumes, quite different in each of the two acts, show first the respectable Liverpudlian in her everyday '80s best, and then a woman whose life may be acquiring a new lease, signed by a more fulfilled tenant.

"Shirley Valentine"

Playing at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Media, through July 3. Tickets: $25. Information: 610-565-4211 or www.hedgerowtheatre.org. EndText

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Hear his reviews on the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.