July 18, 2008

‘String of Pearls’ Weaves Story Lines — Production Tugs at Memories That Tie Together Experiences

By Christopher Blank

Almost every woman owns a piece of jewelry that belonged to her mother or a beloved relative - a keepsake that holds sentimental value or a secret story cherished by its owner.

In "String of Pearls," produced by Playhouse on the Square and running through Aug. 3 at TheatreWorks, the history of such an heirloom is revealed as it changes hands and hearts.

Playwright Michele Lowe's inventive storytelling is reminiscent of the film "The Red Violin," as the title object makes its circuitous route across time and distance. Only, instead of obsessing or cursing its owners, this string of pearls, with its air of old-time feminine domesticity, unlocks memories and inspires change or rebellion.

This is, in part, a play about the evolution of feminism in the late 20th century - about women sorting out problems, taking control and dealing with noticeably absent men. The pearls are such a perfect symbol for these tough, distinguished women linked in their struggles, that the stage - shaped like the Roman symbol for woman (the mirror and comb of Venus) - is quite unnecessary, and provides an awkward playing space.

The story begins at the end, with a young woman, Amy, about to get married. Her grandmother wants Amy to wear the pearls that she'd long ago given to Amy's mother, who died of cancer. But the pearls are gone.

The grandmother explains to the audience why the necklace was so important to her.

When she'd received it in the 1960s, she was already stuck in a conservative, routine marriage. The sexual revolution came too late for her. But a memorable sexual experience revives her marriage and her husband commemorates the occasion with the special gift.

The pearls are passed to her daughter, Linda. She, in turn, gives them to a woman who takes care of her while she is dying of cancer. The pearls are stolen, end up with a single mother, then an immigrant, a corporate executive and others. Each person places different value on the pearls.

Lowe weaves her seductively intricate story with four actresses of varying ages playing multiple roles. What's particularly insightful about director Jimmy LeDuc's casting of two white and two African-American actresses in race-neutral roles is that it paints the feminist struggle as a universal one. "I'm Every Woman," would make an appropriate theme song.

The actresses are sincere and natural performers, though their different characters are not as distinctive as they could be. All four remain onstage the entire show, observing when not performing, and they use small changes of clothing to indicate changes in character.

Claire Hayner, Emily Peckham, Maya Geri Robinson and Teresa Willis connect well as an ensemble, and stand out individually in their solo moments, evincing tears, laughs and probably a lot of memories related to the tokens that have become inseparable parts of our own life stories.

- Christopher Blank: 529-2305


theater review

'String of Pearls'

Through Aug. 3 at TheatreWorks, 2085 Monroe. Shows are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 students and seniors. Call 726-4656.


VIDEO: http://www.commercialappeal.com/videos/detail/theater- life16/

Theater critic Christopher Blank reviews two performances. "String of Pearls" at TheatreWorks and "Pride and Prejudice" at Theatre Memphis.

Originally published by Christopher Blank [email protected] .

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