by Hugh Hunter
“String of Pearls,” by Michele Lowe, is all about women. Directed by Maurizio Giammarco, the show now running at Allens Lane pulls out all the stops.
“Pearls” is more a sequence of vignettes than a drama. Beth is a 74-year-old grandmother who wants to bequeath the family heirloom, a string of pearls, to her granddaughter. When Beth discovers the pearls missing, we are off to the races.
Six actresses — Anne Bailis, Ginny Kaufmann, Ren Manley, Susan Mattson, Jessica Snow and Susan Triggiani — portray no fewer than 27 women. As they travel the world, they rub elbows with women from all stations of life, and those miraculous pearls keep popping up.
“Pearls” is not the first drama to weave a story around a single, recurring prop. The pearls constitute what there is of plot, and they show up everywhere — in a vacuum cleaner, a casket, a jewelry store and the belly of a fish. Though there are common bonds, they mean something different to every woman who holds them in her hands.
The individual scenes are mostly monologues. The actresses obviously perform multiple roles and use all sorts of accents, costumes and miming. It is a credit to their skill that they make you believe you keep on seeing different women.
The set design is minimal, a collection of wooden chairs rearranged to fit the needs of each scene. As with the acting, much is left to suggestion. A white screen forms the rear wall. Occasional silhouettes suggest events taking place off stage, and the effect is dream-like.
In fact, it seems to me that director Giammarco tries to transform “Pearls” into a magical, dream-like tableau. That is a hard act to pull off. Just one unsightly intrusion of realism can rupture the illusion, and there is some gritty stuff in the vignettes. Together with the strain of figuring out the reality of each new woman without the help of story context, we are regularly jostled out of our reveries.
“Pearls” is in the tradition of feminist drama, but is delightfully free of ideological cant. There are no women who seem to be walking/talking ideas, a step or two removed from life. All of these women clearly have lives. There are no men on stage, but the women talk about them, and men become a ghost-life presence, part of a larger struggle in which each woman tries to find her better self.
Different as the women are, they seem to face the same struggle. That is quite an achievement. It has always been an element of theater to comment on world affairs, and “Pearls” probably succeeds better in its vision of sisterhood than it does as drama.
Allens Lane Theater is located at Allens Lane near McCallum. “String of Pearls” will run through May 21. Reservations at 215-248-0546.