String of Pearls

By - Apr 1st, 2007 02:52 pm
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Michele Lowe’s String of Pearls follows the title object through 30-years, as it passes from owner to owner to owner. Slowly, the necklace makes its long journey full circle as it leaves its mark on the lives of a large number of characters. Featuring some impressive talent in a small space, Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of the play is an enjoyable collection of dramatic moments.

For the most part this is a string of disjointed moments held together by a single prop. The prop itself isn’t always extremely prominent in each of the stories that the play consists of, so it ends up feeling like more of a symbolic gimmick than a character that mixes with the rest of the play. The action onstage is largely spoken directly to the audience, making String of Pearls feel like a collection of monologues that aspires to be a single, cohesive play. It may not quite make it, but there are so many genuinely touching moments here that it hardly seems worth the effort to string them together at all.

Renaissance has put together a cast for its production that not only captures attentions and imagination throughout the play’s many stories, it also manages to keep things flowing gracefully enough that each story seems to naturally flow from the one before it. And though we are, for the most part, watching a string of monologues, the actresses here have a strong enough chemistry as a whole to make it feel like they are all interacting with each other in a single story.

Each actress holds several roles over the course of the play. None are so pleasantly wide-ranging as those performed by long-time Milwaukee stage actress Mary MacDonald Kerr. The butch, overweight lesbian gravedigger she plays at the end of the show may not fit her physically, but she plays it sympathetically with more than enough heart to make her performance truly engaging. Earlier on, she plays a comically annoying mother of an adult daughter, the comically hip mother of a much younger daughter and more. Kerr stands out in a script that hands many of the fun roles to her with only a smattering of truly heavy drama.

While Tracy Michelle Arnold plays a number of roles herself, nowhere is she more memorable than in the role of an Irish funeral home employee who is looking after her aging mother. Arnold plays both high comedy and endearing drama from the subtle, Irish intonations of a woman whom seems to have spent a great deal of time pummeling. She’s brilliantly reserved in the role. So much comes out of so little in her performance here. Making her Renaissance debut in this production, it’s nice to see the American Players Theatre actress on a much smaller local Milwaukee stage.

Tammy Workentin and Laura Birmingham round out the cast. Birmingham renders some really powerful moments as a woman looking back over her life at the beginning of the play and perhaps looking forward to new life at the end. Workentin is brilliantly memorable as the exasperated adult daughter of The Mother From Hell. It may resonate as a string of disparate moments after it’s all over, but String Of Pearls plays like a single, seamless story in this production. VS

Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of String Of Pearls runs now through April 15th at the Broadway Theatre Center Studio Theatre. Tickets range in price and can be purchased by calling 414-291-7800 or online at

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