String of Pearls

The City Theatre launches their 2003-2004 season with the world premiere of String of Pearls by Michele Lowe (The Smell of the Kill). This is a clever, poignant and entertaining work. Well supported by set, lighting, direction, and cast, the production comes highly recommended.

The play follows a string of high quality pearls as it is (voluntarily and non-voluntarily) passed along from owner to owner. Through nearly a dozen scenes, we see the pearls make a difference in the lives of many women. In a piece such as this, one might cynically expect predictability, but Lowe is inventive with this structure. She offers unique and interesting characters and scenarios - all provided by a four member cast and minimal set pieces. Surprises, humor and a touch of fantasy in the plot and brisk pacing in the direction (Eric Simonson) prevent tedium from setting in during this one hour forty minute, one act play.

The first scene sets up the beginning of the trail of owners of the pearls; a grandmother (Helena Ruoti) wishes to give her pearls to her granddaughter (Rebecca Harris) who is about to be married, but she doesn't remember what happened to them. From there, we see how she originally got the pearls and how they were passed along from woman to woman, until ... well, the very end is a tad predictable, as we know the pearls will return to the initial owner as the play makes a circle as neatly as the clasped necklace itself. Thoughout the story, we meet women as mothers, daughters, wives and lovers, each of whom takes new meaning from the pearls. The few men in evidence are not treated with derision, but the spirit of the play is distinctly "pro-women."

Ruoti and Harris are joined by Sheila McKenna and Sharon Washington, and all four provide well defined characters of many ages (with the barest of props and costuming) by changing body language, stature, and voice. Sheila McKenna, in particular, is quite a crowd pleaser with her portrayals of such diverse characters as a "supermom," a man, and a butch lesbian gravedigger. She makes an art of the masculine swagger.

The set by Loy Arcenas is stunning it its simplicity and effectiveness. Picture frame arches of decreasing size appear from proscenium to the back of the stage. Sliding partitions, four or five feet in width, are moved by cast members to change scenes and create the barest of physical setting for each vignette. Lighting by Thomas Hase is inspired and perfectly complements the other elements to illustrate how simplicity can be expressive. Costuming by Michael Olich is appropriate and accents the actors' characterizations.

A compelling story, striking production values, and a versatile cast make String of Pearls a rich evening of theatre.

String of Pearls has been extended through November 9 at the City Theatre. Call (412) 431-CITY [2489] or visit for tickets and performance schedule.

See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.

-- Ann Miner

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