HELEN'S NECKLACE by Carole Fréchette, translated by John Murrell, directed by Eda Holmes, with Susan Coyne and Sanjay Talwar. Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). Runs to November 16, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $22-$27, Sunday pwyc-$15, stu $16-$22. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
loss is a relative concept, as the central character discovers during the totally engaging hour that makes up Helen's Necklace . In Carole Fréchette's play, translated with a poetic touch by John Murrell , Helen ( Susan Coyne ) wanders through an unnamed Middle Eastern city after a conference she attended there ends, looking for a lost pearl necklace. In language as shimmering as the strand of pearls itself - its value isn't what we initially think - Fréchette brings Helen into contact with a series of people, from a friendly taxi driver to a distraught mother and an angrily impassioned man, all played by Sanjay Talwar .
At times, Helen is sister to the speaker in Wallace Shawn's The Fever. Both are middle-class Westerners living in comfortable cultural cocoons who discover that life isn't as easy for others as it is for them. It's too simple to say that Helen realizes by the end that her loss is insignificant compared to that of others, for Fréchette's lyrical, nuanced text - sometimes dialogue, sometimes first-person narrative - keeps taking us layer by layer into the psyche of this superficially kind, unwittingly self-centred character.
Eda Holmes 's direction is note-perfect, down to the dancelike movements she gives the characters, while John Thompson 's set of bricks and rubble and Andrea Lundy 's incisive lighting create the shifting scenes with vivid immediacy.
Talwar's changes are protean and neatly distinguished one from the other, his high energy contrasting with Coyne's emotionally quiet, memorable Helen, whose world is irremediably changed by her search for a trinket.