Susannah is a well-intentioned but somewhat insensitive ethnomusicologist researching folk songs from "before slavery times" in the black community. Her search takes her to a prison where she hears a powerful voice coming from one of the cells. Pearl is the source of that voice, a woman who was done wrong by a man, so she carved him up. Susannah determines to tease an undiscovered song out the hard-luck Pearl, whose upbringing in the Gullah community surely means she has some forgotten — and valuable — folk song in her storehouse of knowledge. The negotiations begin: Can Pearl's secret song vault Susannah to fame and a prestigious university position? Can Susannah's pull get Pearl paroled so that she can resume searching for her lost daughter? But also at play is the idea of white culture co-opting — or maybe strip-mining — black culture for its own ends. Frank Higgins' Black Pearl Sings! examines the fraught history of race relations and cultural exchange, as well as salvation through song. The Black Rep presents Black Pearl Sings! at 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (April 20 through May 15) at the Grandel Theatre (3610 Grandel Square; 314-534-3810 or www.theblackrep.org). Tickets are $17 to $47.
Thursdays-Sundays. Starts: April 21. Continues through May 15, 2011