String of Pearls Links Together Stories on Stage

The setup: A string of pearls links together vignettes that bridge generational gaps with poignant humor and adroit storytelling.

The execution: The evening opens as a 74-year-old grandmother, played by Antoinette Anders, is distraught that her granddaughter's wedding day is approaching and the string of pearls that has become a family heirloom is nowhere to be found. Anders has an inner poise that rises to the surface, and she handles complicated emotions with aplomb, even describing in one scene how a string of pearls -- the words, not the strand itself -- can be an aphrodisiac and save a marriage, to hilarious effect.

Anders is equally persuasive in the final scene, which closes the arc of the play with a "circle of life" theme as the wedding proceeds with, indeed, a string of pearls. Her granddaughter is played by Laura Schlect, who brings a slim, blond beauty and a zest for life to the proceedings. All the six female actors play multiple roles, and Kelly White is enthusiastic and effective as a wife who moves with her husband from Dallas to an apartment in New York City, but takes her Texan sense of reality -- and sense of humor -- with her; I wanted to invite her to dinner.

Rachel Manuel plays a much younger lesbian who falls hopelessly in love with Anders's straight 74-year-old grandmother, and their pas de deux is graceful and heartwarming. Manuel has a gift for body language that enhances this beautifully written and most original love story. Natasha Sebeyran and Cindy Parker each play five parts and handle them deftly.

The set is primitive, a table and a few benches, and serves admirably to showcase the acting and writing talent. While the program only lists the playwright's name, audiences should know that Michele Lowe is a playwright past the "emerging" stage since she has won one award and been nominated for another. Her skill is clear, her scenes brisk and salient, she conveys powerful emotions without sentimentality, and is a talent to be reckoned with.

Abby Esparza directed the series of semi-related vignettes; the various shifts in scenes and characters occur smoothly, and she merits praise for finding the talented cast and evoking such enjoyable performances.

The verdict: Strong storytelling and engaging, effective acting make String of Pearls a gem itself, powerful and seductive in its charm.

Through October 22, Pandora Theatre at Midtown Art Center, 3414 LaBranch at Holman, 713-364-8541.

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