hid­den pearle


peaRle haR­bouR’S chau­TauQua by ñ

Justin Miller (Pearle Har­bour Pro­duc­tions/The­atre Passe Mu­raille, 16 Ry­er­son). Runs to Oc­to­ber 27. $20-$30. 416-504-7529, passe­mu­raille.ca. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 29. Rat­ing: nnnn

The world is all topsy-turvy right now and so is the The­atre Passe Mu­raille Mainspace, which has been com­pletely trans­formed for Pearle Har­bour’s Chau­tauqua. Au­di­ences en­ter through a side door, take a cir­cuitous walk by in­trigu­ing dis­plays, grab a drink at the cash bar and end up in a tent (erected in­side the the­atre) where an usher has a unique method for seat­ing ev­ery­one for this amaz­ing and im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence.

Drag per­former Justin Miller’s al­ter ego Pearle Har­bour is part ring­leader and part spir­i­tual torch­bearer, who en­cour­ages bet­ter liv­ing through breath­ing ex­er­cises and faith in self-im­prove­ment. Miller, who also wrote the show, uses mu­sic and sto­ries to elu­ci­date Pearle’s four max­ims for liv­ing: Speak Truth, Live Pure, Right The Wrong and Fol­low The Way. Mu­si­cian Steven Con­way de­lights as the af­fa­ble Brother Gantry, Pearle’s har­mo­niz­ing and gui­tar-strum­ming side­kick.

The show ex­ists in some­thing of a time warp. It’s set in the present yet draws much in­spi­ra­tion from the past in the form of old songs, the Chau­tauqua move­ment (an ed­u­ca­tion move­ment that be­gan in New York State in the late 1800s and spread across the U.S.) and a moral­ity pup­pet play.

And Pearle ap­pears to have stepped out of a fash­ion mag­a­zine from the postGreat-War era, per­fectly ap­pointed with gloves, hat, jew­elry and makeup – in­clud­ing eye­lashes even a mod­ern Kar­dashian would envy.

But be­hind that outer per­fec­tion is a per­son aching for un­der­stand­ing and con­nec­tion. Miller’s brave per­for­mance al­ways re­mains in­tensely in the mo­ment, even when Pearle muses on a sig­nif­i­cant in­ci­dent from her child­hood. It is riv­et­ing to watch Pearle in­ter­act­ing up close, en­cour­ag­ing ev­ery­one through hu­mour, au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion and her em­pow­er­ing catch­phrase, “You betcha!”

Many com­po­nents bring this show to­gether splen­didly. By­ron Lavi­o­lette di­rects with pre­cise pac­ing, in­cor­po­rat­ing pauses for emo­tional re­flec­tion at just the right mo­ments. Joseph Pag­nan’s pro­duc­tion de­sign and Jareth Li’s light­ing are in­te­gral to the show, with one flick­er­ing bulb tak­ing on much mean­ing. The tent, de­signed by Ha­ley Reap, of­fers a re­as­sur­ing space that’s small but never feels con­fined. And check out the de­tailed hand­i­work of Jesse Byiers’s hand pup­pets.

The end­ing feels brusque, but maybe that’s to snap ev­ery­one back to present­day re­al­ity, where things are far from per­fect even though, as Pearle re­minds us, we can still count on ice cream treats for a taste of hap­pi­ness.

deb­bie fein-gold­bach

Justin Miller’s Pearle Har­bour is part ring­leader, part spir­i­tual torch­bearer.

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