String of Pearls

Primary Stages mounts the second production in its 20th-anniversary season with this four-actress showcase, which strings together several women's lives through the path of a pearl necklace as it is given, stolen, found and lost over four decades. Michele Lowe's fluid writing and transitions allow the work to unfold like a novel with an omniscient narrator.

With:
Woman 1 - Ellen McLaughlin Woman 2 - Mary Testa Woman 3 - Antoinette LaVecchia Woman 4 - Sharon Washington

Primary Stages mounts the second production in its 20th-anniversary season with this four-actress showcase, which strings together several women’s lives through the path of a pearl necklace as it is given, stolen, found and lost over four decades. Michele Lowe’s fluid writing and transitions allow the work to unfold like a page-turning novel with an omniscient narrator.

The production begins at its weakest point and builds charm and momentum up to the finish. Play’s structure arranges rotating narrators recounting their slice of the story to the audience, with certain episodes acted out between characters.

The action brings moments of lightness, hope, escape or courage into the lives of women who are experiencing some form of loss or pain.

Each actress is responsible for at least six roles, most of which call for in-depth portraits — a task these four thesps are up to several times over. Sharon Washington is equally successful as Beverly, a social butterfly stewing in sensuality, and as Kyle, an androgynous mortician’s assistant, dog-tired from taking care of her ailing mother. Same goes for Antoinette LaVecchia, nailing a self-effacing upper-middle-class New Yorker and a talkative, heavily accessorized Latina on her way to study in Paris.

The natural comedian in Mary Testa brings humor to every role pinned on her; she finds the nuances in a loud-mouthed, sweet-hearted working-class Bronx woman and in an overweight lesbian weed hound longing for love. Thesp also hits home with a distressing portrayal of a Paris-born New York City Ballet chaperone whose past reveals a twin and mother shot by the Nazis.

Ellen McLaughlin shines in a disturbing portrait of a Tunisian hotel maid who finds the pearls strewn on the floor of a guest’s room, and also as a lonely nouveau riche woman who seeks friendship outside her Upper West Side neighborhood by enrolling her daughter in a swim program for underprivileged youth in Washington Heights.

David Zinn’s costumes enhance and inform the roles with humor and a keen eye, helping to differentiate and illuminate each character. Scenes are set from 1969 to the present, and Zinn tackles the fashions for each decade astutely. With his help, the actresses are able to transform themselves in minutes into women of varying classes, races, ages and, it seems at times, statures.

String of Pearls

59E59 Theaters; 199 seats; $55

Production: A Primary Stages presentation of a play in one act by Michele Lowe. Directed by Eric Simonson.

Creative: Sets, Loy Arcenas; costumes, David Zinn; lighting, D.M. Wood; sound, Lindsay Jones; production stage manager, Emily N. Wells. Opened Sept. 28, 2004. Reviewed Sept. 24, 59 E. 59, Theater A. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Woman 1 - Ellen McLaughlin Woman 2 - Mary Testa Woman 3 - Antoinette LaVecchia Woman 4 - Sharon Washington

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