Stretching across three decades and weaving its way through the lives of twenty-seven women, Michele Lowe’s episodic String of Pearls places the titular item on the periphery of many brief, interconnected dramas. In this presentation by Alumnae Theatre, a committed ensemble of eight actors play at least three characters each.
Following the pearls, we hear stories of explicit sexual encounters, judgemental mothers, marriages, deaths, and quirky friendships. These women gain and lose, yearn and hope. There is much humour and plenty of heartache. I was particularly won over by a very sweet, refreshingly unconventional love affair that develops near the end of this meandering saga.
The whole cast (Shannon Pitre, Andrea Lyons, Natalie Stephenson, Sandy Ramdin, Georgia Findlay, Kim Croscup, Valérie Carrier and Annie Massey) is on stage for the duration, their presence felt even when not actively participating in a scene. Director Barbara Larose fosters a very real sense of theatrical community—women bearing witness, supporting each other individually and as a collective. I greatly appreciate Larose’s conceptual choice to abandon strict adherence to age and body type and instead fixate on each character’s vibes.
The writing and performances are, for the most part, idiosyncratic and compelling. I’m not entirely sold, however, on the theatricality of the material. The women interact with each other tangentially, but the play is essentially a series of monologues delivered directly to the audience. The format gets a little tiresome despite some design elements that are thoughtful and expressive.
Theresa Arneaud’s set provides the actors with levels to play with. Arlaina Taylor’s khaki pants and black shirts pull the ensemble together as a cohesive unit, with nuanced stylistic variations to highlight individuality. Projection designer Danielle Carey punctuates a handful of key moments with a few vivid images on a large background screen. Mary Jane Boon’s subtle fluctuations of colour and focus help establish mood. Some understated, synchronized movement choreographed by Valentina Khanzina adds fluidity. Overall, though, this isn’t very theatrically dynamic.
Any distinctive, immersive elements could be more intense and consistent. Solid writing and empathetic performances, though, give this ample weight.