Stringing Along, in Fine Style

String of Pearls, presented by Santa Barbara Theater

At Center Stage Theater, Sunday, April 23. Shows through
May 7.

Reviewed by Karen Leigh

Haul a fish out of a suburban river, gut it, and maybe, just
maybe, a shiny pearl necklace — swallowed sometime during its
upstream swim — will be nestled inside. This unlikely event is
typical of String of Pearls, playwright Michelle Lowe’s
valentine to the complexities of female relationships. Currently
playing at Center Stage Theater, it’s the latest winning production
of Santa Barbara Theater’s (SBT) inaugural season.

String of Pearls is comprised of interlocking stories,
each of which centers on a relationship between women. There are
best friends, one of whom is dying of cancer. There is a senile
mother and her long-suffering adult daughter. There is a bored
Manhattan housewife who is so lonely that she masquerades as
poverty-stricken to be part of a group of underprivileged moms who
have real fun. And there is a group of Illinois divorcées who
gather monthly to toke, drink, and swim naked in Lake Michigan.
These tales come together in a joyous warts-and-all celebration of
womanhood which alternately saddens (as when the cancer victim
succumbs) or makes one laugh (like when the stoned homemakers thumb
their noses at a hot young policeman).

The evening is expertly staged by director Stephen Sachs, who
relies on his actors’ fire to bring the play’s intriguing ladies to
life. String’s staging is sparse, with the most decadent
production aspect being a ’70s-era disco ball. This mounting relies
on the strength of Lowe’s plot, and said storyline rises to the
occasion. I could have lived without a reminiscing grandmother’s
graphic description of kinky sex, even if it is with her husband.
It’s an unnecessarily vulgar scene in what is otherwise a classy
piece of theater.

Just four actresses embody the play’s many characters, and they
are uniformly excellent. Well known on SoCal stages, Jacqueline
Schultz, Stephanie Stearns, Alicia Wollerton, and Donna McRae are
asked to play a score of women, young and old, rich and poor, happy
and despondent, all in the course of one evening. Their energy
propels String from its beginning montage (backed, in a
fun touch, by staccato wedding music) to its emotional punch of a
finale.

With a Producers’ Circle which includes Family Ties
creator Gary David Goldberg and Oscar winner Eva Marie Saint, SBT
is quickly gaining notice down in Hollywood. Local theater buffs
can only hope its entertaining, no-frills productions make it a
staple of the Central Coast theater scene.

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