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Saturday, April 28, 2012

Crippled Critic Theatre Review: "Black Pearl Sings" 4/27/12

"The Crippled Critic" is now on the Official Press List of Portland Center Stage, and I doubt there could've been a better show to mark my first night as an Invited Critic than "Black Pearl Sings," which opened last night in the Ellyn Bye Studio......

"Black Pearl Sings" explores the partnership of prison inmate Alberta "Pearl" Johnson and Library of Congress musicologist Sussanah Mullally. Sussanah is searching Southern prisons for old slave songs to preserve them.

In their first meeting, Pearl sings "Trouble So Hard," the clang of her leg-irons keeping time. The scene depends upon being able to hear Sussanah's awe-struck silence, but let me tell you, it's difficult to resist the urge to applaud.... Fear not, there are many opportunities for that later in the show, and even a few audience-participation moments....

Sussanah secures Pearl's release and takes her to New York. Pearl can help Sussanah in her academic ambitions and Sussanah can assist Pearl in finding her daughter. There are many shifts of power in the show-- Pearl possesses the musical treasure-trove Susannah desperately needs, and Sussanah knows the inner-workings of the system Pearl must navigate. Along the way, the play explores issues from racism to academic politics, and its real-life inspiration is the relationship between Lead Belly and musicologist John Lomax.

The play is a fascinating history lesson, many times you'll find yourself saying, "Wow! I didn't know that song was so old, and there really was a time when no one knew it..." But, what makes "Black Pearl Sings" unmissable is of course the rollicking songs that shake the walls inside the The Studio's black-box....


Chavez Ravine.......Alberta "Pearl" Johnson

Lena Kaminsky..........Sussanah Mullally

Lydia Comer.........Guard

Friday, April 20, 2012

My City Council Speech in Support of Portland Playhouse