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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Theatre review: String of Pearls feels disconnected from its emotional core

Series of interconnected stories follows the history of a single set of pearls

When is a string of pearls not a string of pearls? In Michele Lowe’s play the coveted white gemstones are real and metaphorical, and something straight out of the urban dictionary.

String of Pearls is another addition to the object-through-the-years catalogue. Think The Red Violin without the centuries. A series of interconnected stories, this dramedy follows a single string of pearls as it changes necks, eventually (no spoiler here really) returning to its original owner.

The circle of life pearls begins as 74-year old Beth insists her granddaughter wear them at her upcoming nuptials. The harried bride scene moves to the necklace’s origin story, where the now 39-year old Beth discovers a string of pearls can take on a whole different meaning in the boudoir.

Without wanting to spoil too much of Lowe’s twisting tale, suffice to say the pearls make some unexpected, albeit necessarily contrived, appearances over its nine scenes before finding themselves draped once again across Beth’s neck. Each self-contained scene largely presented as monologue are individually meant to be poignant, tragic and touching, with a connective link of underlying humour.

Playing 27 characters through the scenes is a cast of four: Jennifer Tong, Sarah Seekamp, Lucia Forward and Kelly Sheridan. Each gets a chance in the spotlight.

Seekamp teems with the confidence which eluded the others at times. She is matched by Sheridan who manages to inhabit her characters with ease, including most surprisingly perhaps as the 300 pound lesbian gravedigger. Forward is particularly good as the mortician’s assistant who is as weary with her job as she is in having to care with her mother.

While tentative at first, Tong wisely stays away from any attempt at impersonation of the elderly grandmother beyond a shawl. Tong’s recounting of the “other” string of pearls is delightfully softcore, and when paired with Sheridan in the final scene the two manage one of the evening’s few emotional connections.

Unfortunately, it is this lack of emotional connection which never quite lets String of Pearls soar. Perhaps it is the lightness permeating this production, but even as we are dealt some pretty heavy stories we are never allowed to go deep.

As with his The Dance Teacher, Williams goes for a simple set of chairs for his actors. With a spare use of props Williams also introduces representations of a couple of the men in the story. Having his actors step out of the light to retrieve these items is, like the items themselves, pretty on-the-nose, but it also serves another disconnection. It is a feeling that permeates through this String of Pearls.

String of Pearls by Michelle Lowe. Directed by Gerald Williams. A Tomo Suru Players production on stage at Studio 1398 (1398 Cartwright St, Granville Island, Vancouver) until May 14. Visit for tickets and information.

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