String of Pearls Preview

DeAnza Maestas crawls on the floor of the lobby of the Greer Garson theatre during a dress rehearsal of SFUAD’s production of String of Pearls. She lifts an audience member’s shoe and uncovers a shiny, white pearl. Maestas continues picking up the gems, one by one from the carpet. “I find 42 more pearls,” she says.

String of Pearls tells its story in episodic fashion, shifting between characters, as a pearl necklace slips from one set of hands to another. Maestas plays the role of Josianne, a hotel maid. She also plays the role of Linda, a young woman battling cancer. Toward the end of the play, Maestas returns one more time as Cindy, a gay woman in her thirties who falls for a woman twice her age.

Eight actresses inhabit the roles of 27 characters, each of whom comes into contact at one time or another with the titular string of pearls. Sophomore Alyssa Vogel plays four roles in the production. She says it can be challenging switching from one character to another. “My characters don’t only have to be different from me, but also from each other,” Vogel says. “I have to come up with something completely different for each character.”

In one of Vogel’s four roles, she plays Helen, a political consultant who has no trouble “pitching a fuck.” Her sister, Stephanie, played by Jennifer Condon, struggles to balance her work life with raising a tempestuous three-year-old named Zoe. Liz Anderson, not a stranger to comedic roles, plays Zoe in a rainbow skirt with a pink ribbon in her hair. On the other end of the spectrum, Anderson plays Kyle, a frustrated funeral home worker. When not preparing bodies for burial, Kyle cares for her mother who suffers from dementia. Danielle Reddick plays the mother, commanding audience sympathy as Anderson pushes her around in a wheelchair. Reddick’s roles in the play are just as varied, proving what Vogel says is true: Each character must stand out distinctly from the next one. Reddick first appears as Ela, the woman who takes Linda into her home and eventually becomes her closest friend. Two scenes later, Reddick plays Josianne’s Aunt Patty with a thick accent and very little empathy.

Each of the versatile actresses take on two to four characters, and provides authentic performances. They also play minor roles in the ensemble. They lie on blankets at the beach, reading magazines. They duck and cover after an explosion on the streets of Paris. Other times, they wear solid black, functioning as a delivery system for costume pieces and props. In the second scene of the play, as the audience is transported back in time, six women in black form a circle with flashlights in their hands. They rise slowly from the floor, the beams of the flashlights growing larger, as a recording of the Apollo 11 moon landing plays over the speakers. Every actress contributes in transporting the audience from one location to another.

When the lights go down and Rebekah Vega walks out as her 74-year-old character, Beth, the atmosphere of the lobby is transformed. Vega sits on wooden boxes that serve many functions throughout the production. In one scene, Maestas makes the boxes into a bed. In another, a blue and white cloth is draped over them to create a casket. Julia Rocke stands atop the boxes at one point, goggles strapped to her head, preparing to dive into an imaginary pool. The sound of a splash is heard offstage.

SFUAD theater productions are challenged this semester due to construction in the Greer Garson theatre. Actress Liz Anderson was unsure of using the lobby of the theater as a stage. “At first I thought, I don’t know how this is going to work, but we all came together and we made it happen.”

The lobby balcony is put to use as the women simulate the images on a television screen. In another scene, the balcony serves to create distance between characters on different ends of a telephone call. The stairway leading up to the balcony provides the entryway to a bar in one moment and in the next, the steps of a wedding chapel.

“When you’re in a particular environment, you respond to what’s around you,” says the show’s director, Acushla Bastible. “You incorporate the elements of the environment into the production.” Bastible chose the Michele Lowe-penned play out of a desire to have more women on the stage.

The women range in character types from ambivalent children to wealthy socialites, from women working dead-end jobs to women suffering grave illness. There is no subject matter the play won’t tackle. Alyssa Vogel says String of Pearls is a “woman-empowering show. You will know a woman in the play, whether it’s your mother, your grandmother or someone else.” String of Pearls premieres April 10 and 11 at 7 p.m. and concludes on April 12 at 2 p.m.