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String of Pearls (west coast premiere)
a kate west review
by Michele Lowe; directed by Stephen Sachs
at the Road Theatre Company, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood 91601
running January - March 2006 ; contact (866) 811-411 or
extended in Santa Barbara: Center Stage Theater, 751 Paseo Nuevo, S.B.
running April - May 2006; contact (805) 963-7282; tix $25

"String of Pearls" is a poetic ensemble piece of female vignettes strung together like pearls on a necklace requiring a strong ensemble and four strong main actors.

Jacqueline Schultz, Donne McRae (understudying this particular performance), Stephanie Stearns and Alicia Wollerton all handle this quite well. Each of them plays a multitude of characters, ranging from (among others) an aging matriarch and a plus-size lesbian to a career woman and an immigrant cleaning woman. The characters all have universal appeal but demand that the audience pay strict attention when the women jump from character to character; it is a bit tricky to follow the quickly changing story lines.

Similar to the film "The Red Violin," essentially a strand of exquisite pearls passes from woman to woman, seemingly ending where it started, with the matriarch (Donne McRae). On its journey, it bestows pleasure on almost every kind of woman imaginable (in this case twenty-seven total). Whether the necklace is symbolically the same or the actual physical same necklace is subject to audience interpretation, although the implied connection between the story beads strongly suggests the latter.

Michele Lowe's original dialogue is lovely and often poignant. While some stories are not as interesting as others, the overall effect is crowd-pleasing. Also, some are more strongly connected than others and again, require a certain amount of concentration. There are no earth-shattering revelations here, but merely quiet stories about women with varying intensity. What really makes the show is the ensemble. The women work together very well and showcase their talent admirably. Director Stephen Sachs creates a nice flow between the vignettes and the actors keep up the transitions from humor to anger and sorrow just fine, in between the anecdotal.

At times reminiscent of the female strength in the film "The Joy Luck Club," this is a nice ensemble piece in general, though the story lines could be clearer. All in all, it makes for a good evening out and as the production moves to Santa Barbara in the next two months, it might make a pretty good Mother's Day jaunt too.


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