Review: Jamie Brickhouse Finds the Beauty and the Bawdy in a "Pearl Necklace"

Pearl Necklace: A Gay Sexcapade

Written and performed by Jamie Brickhouse

Presented at UNDER St. Marks

94 St. Marks Place, Manhattan, NYC

June 14 and 23, 2024

Jamie Brickhouse cruising in Dangerous When Wet. Photo credit: Mikiodo

Early in the solo show Pearl Necklace: A Gay Sexcapade, writer and performer Jamie Brickhouse wryly observes that the show's title and subtitle should act as their own trigger warnings. At the same time, by the end of this funny, genuine, and engrossing show, the "pearl necklace" will come to symbolize simultaneously a life built with another person and an ongoing refusal of a monogamy-centered model of sexuality rooted in heteronormativity, to use the sort of jargon that the show lightly mocks at one point. Pearl Necklace is currently part of the 2024 Queerly Festival, presented by FRIGID New York and curated by FRIGID Co-Artistic Director Jimmy Lovett. Founded in 2014, the festival, which provides a space for queer teams and artists both on- and off-stage, runs from June 13th to July 3rd.

Brickhouse is an award-winning writer and storyteller, appearing in venues ranging from PBS to TikTok when not on the stage, and Pearl Necklace clearly displays his talent for relating compelling tales with vividly evocative detail while recurrently giving the impression of just then excavating the stories' events from his memory. Drawing from around four decades of memories, Pearl Necklace employs Brickhouse's pandemic-era wedding to his longtime partner as a frame for its considerations of the titular sexcapades. The show reaches back to 1982 and beginning high school in a small Texas town, and then skips forward through time and locations from the local library (Brickhouse's getting a copy of Lillian Hellman's 1934 play The Children's Hour inevitably brings to mind the current push to remove queer books from libraries in Texas and across the nation, even if the segment is not focused on textual encounters) and, later, college to, still later, Central Park and Fire Island. An unexpected experience of tenderness while cruising perhaps offers a good analogy for the show's blend of hilarity and warmth, whether Brickhouse is learning to ask for exactly what he wants, contemplating the illogical sting of rejection (and its possible necessity), or acknowledging the persistent itch of the ones who got away. Though Pearl Necklace does not overtly center politics, it is certainly visible in conflicts between Brickhouse's (and his partner's) values and those of marriage, and early remarks about being a Gen-X gay crystallize a larger historical shift from queerness as involving liberation from (straight) social institutions, ranging from marriage to the military-industrial complex, towards homonormativity, to use some of that jargon again.

Brickhouse makes very minimal but very effective use of props and costume changes in his stories of boyfriends and lovers, phys-ed classes and hook-up apps. Stringing together these narrative pearls, Pearl Necklace: A Gay Sexcapade performs the kind of remembrance and reflection that anyone should probably engage in before marriage, while ultimately asserting that one can and should assimilate (practices such as) marriage to one's desires and convictions rather than the other way around. Don't let this fun and frank show be one that got away.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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