Three unexpected murderers, unleashed from three normal, everyday women. Their crimes? Mercilessly killing off nettlesome people in their lives to solve problems that would normally be endured or dealt with innocuously by others. Pearls & Poison, or The Appropriate Amount of Rouge surely sounds like it could make for an enticing character study in theatrical form, right?
Except it’s not. What initially appears to be an indelible, threefold admonitory tale winds up being nearly impossible to follow. The biggest issue, unfortunately, has to do with our performers, who are also the playwrights of this piece. The script, while poetic, is confusing to grasp in places, but it’s the line delivery that really makes it fall apart.
I speak with absolutely no hyperbole when I say that none of them possess any sense of tone, inflection, diction, or cadence when delivering their lines. This is especially true of the narrator Karyn Guenther, who also portrays one of the three women. She recites her lines so fast in the most soporific tone possible, that she even flubs several of them. It’s made worse when she has choral segments with the other actresses. Being the vocal equivalent of diazepam does not make her creepy or compelling.
The only one of the three who is kind of convincing is Keshia Palm, but her spastic choreography and frenzied recitation are distracting nonetheless. These changes in behavior should be gradual and subtle.
The problem with Yolanda Ferrato’s depiction, then, is that she’s perhaps too subtle. She never deviates from her seemingly peaceful demeanor throughout the performance.
Palm’s shadow puppetry is an innovative idea given the premise, but it’s a little clumsy in places, most notably when she accidentally pulls out the wrong newspaper article in tandem with Guenther’s narration.
The only genuinely decent portions of this play can be accredited to the music and costume design by Ferrato and Shalyn McFaul. All three ladies sing well enough, and their outfits match the early 20th century fashion, as well as their social classes. My only gripe here is Ferrato’s violin playing. Her screeching is occasionally effective in setting the atmosphere, but her actual playing is rudimentary (I would know, I’m a violinist myself).
All of these flaws discourage any discursive response from the audience. Maybe it’s a good thing the show was rushed, because it certainly doesn’t leave any meaningful impact other than letting us exit Hub 14 as soon as possible.
Pearls & Poison was presented by Intersection Theatre and played at Hub 14 in Toronto. For more information, visit https://intersectiontheatre.wordpress.com/pearlspoison/.