Pearle Harbour’s Agit-Pop! (Justin Miller) 2020 Next Stage Review

Photo of Pearle Harbour in Pearle Harbour's Agit-PopPearle Harbour’s Agit-Pop! is playing as part of the 2020 Next Stage Theatre Festival. The show features a cabaret-style evening of music and storytelling with a political and often dark edge. She aptly describes it as “musical meditations on the pre-post-apocalypse.”

Underneath a warm and glamourous persona, Pearle Harbour delivers social commentary that is incisive, biting, and a little melancholy.

Pearle Harbour is a “drag tragicomedienne.” She’s dressed in a form-fitting ensemble in a black and white swirled fabric accessorized with fabulous gold gloves. She’s accompanied by musical director Tago Mago (Steven Conway), who is also a vision in black and white. The show has no real narrative structure. Instead, Pearle Harbour addresses a series of topics ranging from global warming to racism, to nuclear war with a blend of banter and song.

Pearle Harbour highlights the point of each vignette with musical numbers, which include Percy Sledge, Judy Garland, the Rolling Stones, among other well-chosen pieces. Conway’s accompaniment is terrific. They move from keyboards to guitar to drums seamlessly, all while providing haunting harmonies and back-up vocals.

The show’s tone was informal. Pearle Harbour came into the audience several times, and there was some audience participation. The evening also featured a special guest performer Chris Tsujiuchi, who gave a soulful rendition of Lou Rawls’ “Coming Down with a Heartache.”  Wow, he could sing!  There will be different guests every night.

Although Pearle Harbour is very funny, I wouldn’t categorize the show as uplifting. Everything is tinged with sadness and a bit of despair at the mess the world is in 2020. People familiar with the term Agitprop (Agitation Propaganda) in the arts may not be surprised by this.

The show’s press release says: “Cheerfully riffing on the tradition of agitprop – art with an explicitly political edge and purpose – Pearle Harbour brings her signature acid wit and outsider insight as she spills the tea on true history, fake news, and alternative facts. Breathe a sigh of relief: even though her sights are
locked on our culture of political dis-ease, existential panic, and ecological catastrophe, Pearle will keep you safe. Which is not the same thing as comfortable.”

But when I walked into the room, all of that had fallen away. So I kept waiting for the hopeful “everything is going to be alright” closer, which just didn’t arrive. I left glad I had come to the show, but somewhat haunted by all the work there is to do in the world — no doubt the intended reaction.


Photo of Pearle Harbour by Michael Cooper