“Authentic” show about women’s stories arrives on the Toronto stage
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from seeing the Canadian Premiere of Michele Lowe’s String of Pearls at Artscape Youngplace. I knew that the show involved a pearl necklace and women’s stories, but not much else.
I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. The production itself was minimalistic, with no tickets or programmes. Thankfully, the power of the story itself and strong acting by all four performers made this show a memorable experience.
The story begins with Beth, who insists on her granddaughter Amy wearing the string of pearls that’s been passed down to her through her mother. I felt that the inter-generational conflict between these two characters over the pearls, and their different lifestyles, was really expertly set up and effectively set the tone for the rest of the show.
Once Beth begins talking about how she initially got the pearls from her late husband, a big set piece of a string of pearls is unveiled in the middle of the wall facing the audience, and the saga of the pearls really begins.
String of Pearls is ultimately a story about female empowerment, and these pearls serve as a catalyst for various women to improve their lives, or think about themselves in a new way. From the stay-at-home mother who begins to feel more hopeful to the domestic worker who takes back her freedom, these pearls connect these very different women to each other.
I feel that this play and particular production is really relatable to the average woman. It showcases how restrictive the different roles that women play can be, and that judging someone is very easy if you don’t take the time to get to know them. I related to the parts where women felt lonely or isolated the most.
Alison Brooks’ decision to cast four women of varying ages and life stages made the various stories seem more real and authentic. All four actresses did a fantastic job, but Jeanette Cairns and Hannah Gallant really stood out to me. Cairns added the right amount of wit and sass to some of her characters’ stories, especially when playing Beth.
Gallant, meanwhile, impressed me with how well she was able to smoothly transition between the numerous characters she played, and how distinctly she portrayed each role. The sadness and hopelessness she conveyed during various characters’ storylines seemed very genuine, and really made me feel for their difficult circumstances. The way Gallant portrayed Kyle, the daughter caring for her sick mother, stood out. I could really sense her despair.
The way all four performers interacted with each other and added to each other’s stories felt very natural. The female characters’ nuanced relationships with their female relatives and friends added to the show’s charm. I wished that I could have friends like some of these characters, particularly those in difficult situations, like Linda who had cancer.
Incidentally, I brought a friend to see the show with me. She majored in gender & women’s studies in university, and I thought she might give me some valuable insight about the show. This friend of mine agreed with my overall feelings about String of Pearls, but also added that the storylines seemed a bit repetitive. She also felt that the play’s ending seemed heteronormative. On the bright side, my friend liked how openly and honestly the female characters talked about their personal lives. She liked that this play normalized bad sex.
These pearls passed through many hands and survived many ordeals. Ultimately, though, they ended up in their rightful place in a unique twist of fate. As the play ended, the set piece containing the string of pearls in the middle of the wall facing the audience was hidden.
Overall, this production of String of Pearls was worth seeing. That being said, this show isn’t appropriate for children or for anyone particularly conservative due to its very frank discussions about sex and sexuality. Anybody who isn’t interested in women’s issues and/or doesn’t like a longer, more meandering storyline is also better off seeing something else. However, I left the venue with my friend feeling satisfied. Brooks’ production of this play told these different, interconnected women’s stories in an authentic way.
Poster courtesy of Jennifer DeLucia.