When most people think of an amazing, award winning African American playwright, whether it’s for the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award or New York Drama Critics Award, they have to think of August Wilson. Wilson is on a mission to set down the history of Blacks in this country and he is accomplishing that mission. He is determined to write ten plays, each addressing a time in history, his latest, “Gem Of The Ocean”, looks at the racism that Blacks faced in 1904. It has a rich storyline that includes slavery, escaped slaves, a Black man who betrays his people, an elderly Black who looks to the ancestors for guidance, a lost soul trying to find his way back and the trouble a person can find when they look for love.
Not many people have the ability to create the intriguing scripts that Wilson puts together. He makes sure that the audience experiences several emotions-pride, anger, indignity, levity, sadness and delight. To see an August Wilson play is to witness a powerful, dramatic piece of theater. One of the things that I appreciate when I go to see an August Wilson play is how many Blacks are in the audience. Wilson has a way of attracting our people to the theater and we all sit in awe as we experience the brilliance of his creation. His plays also tends to star stellar casts and this one is no different. This cast includes Tony award winner, Phylicia Rashad as Aunt Ester, the lead character in the play and a 285 year old woman, who has spiritual powers. There is also Anthony Chisholm who plays Solly Two Kings, a strong character-an escaped slave and a fighter for Black rights. LisaGay Hamilton is phenomenal as Black Mary, the young woman who lives with Aunt Ester and will someday have the secrets Ester knows passed on to her. John Earl Jelks is Citizen Barlow, a troubled young man who needs his soul cleansed and seeks out Aunt Ester. Eugene Lee is Eli, he also lives with Aunt Ester and takes care of her. Tony award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson is dynamic in the role of Caesar, the Black man who will sacrifice the lives of his people to ensure his own success. A man who struggles with a lack of relationship with his sister, Black Mary, who is turned off by his betrayal of his own people. Raynor Scheine plays the one White character in the play, a traveling merchant named Selig. He sells to Blacks and sympathizes with them.
The play is directed by Kenny Leon and is a credit to his abilities. “Gem Of The Ocean” is playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre at W 48th Street. Go and experience Wilson’s creativity.
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