Sunday, April 17, 2016

reviews - BLACK PEARL SINGS - Black Theatre Troupe

Dzifa Kwawu and Shari Watts
Photo: Laura Durant
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through April 24th.

 " Frank Higgins' 2006 play Black Pearl Sings, about a convict and a song collector in the 1930s, is receiving a strong production by the Black Theatre Troupe. It is a play about how powerful music is and the importance of documenting it in order to preserve history. With superb performances from Dzifa Kwawu and Shari Watts it is a rich and rewarding journey....Susannah, a white woman working for the Library of Congress to collect songs, and Pearl, an African-American female convict in the Texas prison where Susannah has currently set up shop. Pearl grew up amongst the Gullah people on Hilton Head Island off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, and Susannah is interested in obtaining from her the rare folk songs she learned from people on the island and hopes that it will help her secure an academic job. Pearl is more interested in finding her daughter, and the two women realize they can use each other to find the freedom they both so eagerly seek.... focuses on racial issues but also touches upon the struggles of women in the male-dominated world of the 1930s. ..
David J. Hemphill has done a lovely job directing Kwawu and Watts. They both deeply embody these very strong-willed women, warts and all, and in doing so create realistic individuals. ...Kwawu and Watts are giving two of the strongest and fully fleshed out portrayals I've seen on stage this season.
...Higgins' story of these two women—one black, the other white, one educated, the other not—in the turbulent racial and sexual times of the 1930s, makes for an intriguing but also exceedingly entertaining play. With superb portrayals by Kwawu and Watts, Higgins' tale of the importance of saving and preserving the past makes for a very powerful and emotional experience."  -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"In “”Black Pearl Sings,” ....Two commanding performances make this study fascinating including Dzifa Kwawu  who blends a sensitive portrait with a rich voice to bring Pearl to vibrant life and Shari Watts’ Susannah who overcomes Peal’s doubts to become Pearl’s mentor.  The performances are enhanced by David J. Hemphill’s steady staging including costumes and a set that capture the story’s early ‘30s period as many songs augment the story." --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"..."Black Pearl Sings,"..banked heavily on Pearl's (Dzifa Kwawu) spirituals of slavery origin to relay much more than words. The payoff was huge. Contemporary playwright Frank Higgins... has noted his intention to celebrate the matriarchal nature of folklore. Susannah...a researcher for the Library of Congress, investigates prisons in search of original songs from inmates. She discovers Pearl's spellbinding voice with a rich musical history locked inside. Because of her expressive pipes, Kwawu didn't need to speak or even display Pearl's feelings, her vocal timbre embodied them. ...Though song carried the emotion, the show's value certainly appreciated on account of taut dialogue. With no minced words between two fiery ladies, their charged interplay was excellent. ...Higgins has written extremely well in Pearl's voice, exploring racial distrust, manipulation and exploitation of historical race relations. ..Susannah's narrative was a little trickier to convey. Her kind of oppression, as a privileged but disowned family member daring to cross social, gender and racial barriers was less examined. (Shari) Watts, a highly respected, impressively decorated Valley actress squeezed all the nuance and feminist pioneer spirit she could. Higgins, however, provided the primary heft and meat to Pearl....Common understanding about how familiar spirituals figure in American history gained inestimable depth, for which we were all richer when Black Pearl Sings." -Jennifer Haaland, Examiner.com (click here to read the complete review)

"... a trenchant and funny exploration of race, gender, power and more in Frank Higgins’ 2007 play “Black Pearl Sings.” And a new production at Black Theatre Troupe really does sing, literally and figuratively, with smashing performances from two talented Valley actresses. ,,,(Dzifa) Kwawu’s powerhouse renditions of spirituals...add poignancy to a blazing-eyed performance of a woman who knows whereof she sings, but the best thing about this show is the chemistry between both actresses as their characters negotiate a rocky clash of competing motives that evolves into a fraught but heartfelt friendship that takes them both all the way to Carnegie Hall...." - Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

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