Wilson’s ‘Gem of the Ocean’ graces Trinity’s stage

Theatre Review By Don Fowler
Posted 3/9/22

Trinity Rep had produced five of August Wilson’s plays before taking on his first of ten one-per-century classics.

“Gem of the Ocean” fills the upstairs Chace Theatre stage with …

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Wilson’s ‘Gem of the Ocean’ graces Trinity’s stage

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Trinity Rep had produced five of August Wilson’s plays before taking on his first of ten one-per-century classics.

“Gem of the Ocean” fills the upstairs Chace Theatre
stage with an early 1900s Pittsburgh house occupied by former slaves who are still fighting for their freedom and dignity.

The excellent cast includes two returning actors from the early 1970s, Rose Weaver and Ricardo Pitts Wiley.

Weaver shines as Aunt Ester, a soul cleanser and keeper of the traditions, while Wiley plays Solly Two Kings, friend and neighbor who continues his fight for freedom and justice.

Into their lives comes Citizen Barlow (Christopher Lindsay), an Alabaman who is looking to be cleansed for his sins.

Joe Wilson Jr. plays the menacing Caesar Wilks, the local constable who lives by the laws of the land, criticizing
his fellow Blacks and his sister Mary, who is satisfied with her life as housekeeper to Aunt Ester and Eli (Dereks Thomas).

Wiley’s character provides comic relief, while also raising many issues about what freedom means for different folks.

His scene with Weaver is one of the most touching in all of Wilson’s work.

While “Gem of the Ocean” is a serious work, Wilson adds touches of humor and poignancy that make you care for the characters and their plight for freedom and justice at a turning point in American history.

The play is filled with imagery and biblical references. The title stands for a mythical boat that Aunt Ester uses to cleanse Citizen Barlow’s soul.

A fire in the mill causes Caesar to confront the others
in a tense and moving scene, leading to a moving conclusion.

The acting, as one expects from our Tony award-winning theatre, is superb, even for the minor characters like Mauro Hantman who plays a sympathetic visiting peddler.

The play is long-three hours and could be tightened a bit in the enactment of the rituals.

“The Gem of the Ocean” is at Trinity through March 27. Call 351-4242 for reservations.

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