Based on the lives of two real women living in the antebellum Deep South, DESSA ROSE explores the fictional meeting of these women and the impact they have on each other. Dessa Rose is a pregnant slave condemned to death after leading an uprising. Her captors, choosing not to destroy "perfectly good property," delay her sentence and keep Dessa imprisoned until she gives birth. As she awaits her hanging, Dessa is interviewed by Adam Nehemiah, who is writing a book on slave rebellions.
Ruth Sutton is a white woman abandoned by her slave-owner husband on an isolated farm in Northern Alabama. When Dessa and her companions escape, they make their way to Ruth, who has begun to provide sanctuary to fugitive slaves. Initially distrustful of each other, Dessa and Ruth form an unsteady alliance after a bold scheme is devised to win the slaves' freedom by fleeing to the West. Through hardship and humor, the two women slowly become united, discovering greater strength by being together than by being alone.
DESSA ROSE is almost entirely sung through. The score and its extended musical themes reveal the rarely told story of the strong-willed American women from whom our country derives much of its strength, character, and identity. The authors have structured DESSA ROSE as an oral history being passed down from Dessa Rose and Ruth to their children and grandchildren.