CORVALLIS — A single string of pearls ties together the lives of 27 women across 35 years in Michele Lowe’s 2005 play by the same name.
Director Pat Kight cast six local actresses ranging in age from 28 to 61 take on the challenging range of roles found in the artfully written script.
They are Dorrie Board, Charlotte Headrick, Laurie Mason, Kelly Powers, Mandie Shattuck and Mary Wagner.
“The pearl necklace is definitely a plot device,” Kight said. However, she emphasized that it’s best not to focus too much on the unlikelihood of one piece of jewelry passing hands so many times. The real preciousness of the play is in Lowe’s realistic development of each of the characters and how just a few actors can embody so many diverse roles, while never leaving the stage.
“What the play is really about is not the pearls and how they make their journey, but women’s lives,” she said. “It manages to touch on so many common experiences.”
Last season, Kight directed “The Memory of Water” and “The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia” for Willamette Stage Company and acted in “Collected Stories.” She also has a long history of directing at Albany Civic Theater, Linn-Benton Community College and the Majestic Theatre.
Because of that universal appeal and the flexibility of using anywhere from 4 to 16 women in the cast, the play is one of the hot up and coming shows, according to Kight. “It’s such a natural,” because there is always more woman available (in the theater community),” she said
Headrick, a longtime theater professor at Oregon State University, director (most recently “The Laramie Project” epilogue and “My Name is Rachel Corrie”) and actor, is perhaps the most well-known in the cast.
She takes on the role of Beth, the first recipient of the pearls, at two different points in her life.
“The other people change characters, I change age,” Headrick explained. “Doing the age change is a challenge, and making that believable when I am neither 74 or 39.”
In contrast, following years of work as a journalist, college professor, attorney and small business owner, Mason only recently got into acting on stage but has wasted no time getting involved. In the last year, she has appeared in ACT’s “Lost in Yonkers,” CCT’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” and OSU’s “Shakespeare’s Journey” and One Act Festival.
In “String of Pearls” she covers roles ranging from Linda, a mother with cancer; to Helen, a political consultant; and Victoria, a mom having trouble finding friends in New York
“It is never dull, even in the scenes when I am sitting in my chair,” she said.
Board, who lives in Lebanon, most recently appeared in ACT’s “Humble Boy,” Majestic Theatre Management’s “Persuasion” and CCT’s “Exonerated.”
Board’s characters range from Ella, a woman who opens her home to another mother with cancer, to Cindy, a woman with an unorthodox job who falls for an older woman.
“I needed that stretch because I’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Board said. “(This play), it just really pushes you.”
“Playing Ella’s character is a bit of catharsis,” she added. “I had a friend that died of cancer.”
Powers, the youngest in the cast, is a West Albany High School and University of Oregon graduate. She appeared most recently in Willamette Stage Company’s “A Memory of Water” and ACT’s “Nickeled and Dimed.”
She plays Amy, a daughter getting married; Stephanie, whose sister has an affair with her husband; and Abby who has the distinction of finding the pearls in the most fantastical way of all.
“To be on stage and needing to be engaged, I found really challenging but also great,” she said. “It’s the most frustrating and most rewarding part.”
“What I like about this play in general is that it’s not caricatures of these people. It’s nice to have something that’s really realistic.”
Wagner was most recently in Corvallis Community Theater’s “Harvey.” Her most challenging role in the play is Dora (a chaperone to a ballet company) who is forced to travel back to a place of tragedy in her life.
“There is a lot of variety,” she said. “I loved it, the women were all fantastic. Having a woman director, she’s so tuned into the female characters.”
Shattuck a Kings Valley resident, who is originally from Wyoming, has been active in improv and poetry slams. “I’m actually writing my-own show, a full-length one woman show,” she said.
She takes on roles ranging from a temper tantrum-throwing little girl to an immigrant woman who finds herself stifled in the new world.
“This is by far the hardest play I have ever done,” she said.
Both Shattuck and Board will appear in Willamette Stage productions later this season. Board will appear in “Frozen” in April and Shattuck will be in “Honour” next May.