2017 SummerWorks Picks: Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua

11 Aug

PearleHarboursChautauqua-860x573Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua

Set in a genuine revival-style canvas tent nested inside the Pia Bouman Studio, Pearle Harbour’s Chautauqua is a charming blend of wholesome vintage entertainment and secular-spiritual sermon that attempts to assuage the anxiety, fear, and uncertainty that so heavily colours 21st century living – with a  good dash of folk music to boot.

Hosted by drag persona extraordinaire and 1940’s bombshell Pearle Harbour (the warm yet steely creation of performer Justin Miller), Chautaqua uses the early 20th century adult education movement of the same name (the Wikipedia article is worth a read) as a loose contextual framework to explore the “us and them” mentality through monologue and storytelling.

While Harbour is always in commanding control of the proceedings, the heart of the performance is in her impeccably effortless interaction with the audience (as a whole and with individual members) that sees her weave truthful and intimate moments around seemingly uninspired topics such as popsicle brand preference.

Miller is masterful to watch; Harbour is so organic and richly defined that one gets the impression she is more of a second skin to Miller than a mere character. Director Byron Laviolette’s is to be commended for the small but important details that define the show, and especially for artfully shaping the emotional beats of the performance that crest and fall like waves and keep the proceedings from ever feeling languid.

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