"Gem of the Ocean"
Written by August Wilson
Directed by Kenny Leon
Scenery designed by David Gallo
Costumes designed by Constanza Romero
Lighting designed by Donald Holder
Sound designed by Dan Moses Schreier
Music composed and arranged by Kathryn Bostic
Fight direction by J. Allen Suddeth
Cast in order of appearance:
Eli, Eugene Lee
Citizen Barlow, John Earl Jelks
Aunt Ester, Phylicia Rashad
Black Mary, LisaGay Hamilton
Solly Two Kings, Anthony Chisholm
Caesar, Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Performances: Now through October 30
Box Office: 617-266-0800 or www.huntingtontheatre.org
From its whimsical opening scene which is perhaps the best this reviewer has experienced in more than 25 years of theatergoing to its uplifting conclusion three hours later, Gem of the Ocean captivates its audience and never lets go. Long after the already set-for-Broadway production is over, August Wilson's elegantly written and eloquently performed play about the unbreakable bond between human freedom and spiritual truth still haunts and tantalizes.
Gem of the Ocean, which is currently in previews at the prestigious Huntington Theatre in Boston, is Wilson's ninth in what will be a 10-play cycle that chronicles, decade by decade, the African American experience through the 20th century. His epic series which includes Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney and King Hedley II is much more than a history lesson, however. Each play is a transformational journey of real people trying to make sense of and make something good out of their individual and collective lives.
As such, Gem of the Ocean may very well be the glittering jewel in Wilson's already impressive crown. With its soaring poetry and lyrical dialog, Gem brings the tale of a young black man's personal emancipation and spiritual redemption to vivid life.
Set in the historic Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1904, Gem gives its central characters periodic sanctuary from the economic and social turmoil that swirls around them within the sturdy walls of 1839 Wylie Avenue, a "peaceful house" that harbored escaped slaves traveling north via the Underground Railway before and during the Civil War. Here the young Citizen Barlow seeks the help of the home's enigmatic and legendary owner Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old healer who reportedly can "wash his soul." Barlow, it seems, feels responsible for another man's death and wants to cleanse himself of his burden of guilt. The quick fix he seeks, however, leads Barlow on an unexpected metaphysical adventure, beyond the third dimension, across the Atlantic Ocean to the magical City of Bones.