Florida Studio Theatre’s Black Pearl Sings! traces some nearly lost history.
The first of the women is Susannah (Forrest Richards), a music historian searching for “lost” folk music in a women’s prison in Texas in the midst of the Depression, in 1935. The second of the women is one of the prisoners, Alberta “Pearl” Johnson (Alice M. Gatling), serving time for killing a man (under circumstances we gradually come to understand). For Pearl, the descendant of slaves, helping Susannah to record some previously unheard songs for the Library of Congress could be her ticket to parole, so she can search for the beloved daughter she hasn’t seen in 10 years. For Susannah, it could mean the prestigious Harvard job she wants, if only Pearl can give her a song no one else has yet found—a song tracing its roots all the way back to Africa.
Alice M. Gatling in Florida Studio Theatre’s Black Pearl Sings!
The women have reason to work together, but there are, naturally, suspicions, too. And Pearl is not about to just give away her treasures; she doles them out sparingly as she weighs whether or not Susannah can really help her get what she wants. Pearl, as movingly played by Gatling, is tough, but she’s not a standard-issue strong black matriarch; she has enough quirks to render her truly an individual, and we believe that she can accomplish what she sets out to do.