American playwright August Wilson’s ‘Gem of the Ocean’ coming to Mcleod theater 

By Kitt Fresa, Features Editor

“Gem of the Ocean,” a play from famed American playwright and poet, August Wilson will be presented by the university’s Department of Theatre on April 26 through the 29.

Jarvell Williams, a senior studying Psychology and Communication Studies who plays Eli in the production described the play as a soul cleansing, transcendent experience.

“This production is so much more, it is very precious to the black experience in understanding the history of the complexity of black identity,” Williams said.


“Gem of the Ocean” is the first in a series of ten plays by August Wilson said the play’s director, Segun Ojewuyi who according to one of the actors, was friends with the playwright.

Ojewuyi said directing the play has been exhilarating and exhausting.

“Its a creative Tour de force,” Ojewuyi said. “It’s a very challenging, rich play that goes to many places, it doesn’t just live in the world of realism, it goes to a super realism and it goes across worlds, America, Africa and the middle passage for African Americans. So it’s a very enriching experience.”

August Wilson’s series of ten plays, “The Pittsburgh Cycle” includes plays that each represent a different decade in the 20th century.

Beginning with “Gem of the Ocean” the series goes on to include plays such as “Fences,” “The Piano Lesson” and “Seven Guitars.”

“August Wilson to me is a visionary, he was a visionary of his time,” Jeffery McGoy, who plays Caesar said. “He really took his community and all the different lessons of it and kind of just engulfed it in his writings but also he was able to pull in deeper things.”

Set in 1904, “Gem of the Ocean” takes place shortly after the emancipation proclamation inside the home of Aunt Ester, a 285 year-old former slave and spiritual healer played by Kombe Kapatamoyo.


“In my opinion Aunt Ester represents so many different things,” McGoy said. “Aunt Ester is like my paternal and maternal grandmother. The way I look at it with them is they’re still alive through the lessons that they taught, through the knowledge that they passed….She represents the many years of people who lost their lives, the slaves, Africa, so many different things she embodies all of those different spirits.”

Deirdre Rose, the Costume Designer for the production said there are miles and miles of depths of Wilson’s writing to explore.

Rose started researching costume design back in September or October.

“Its August Wilson and you can’t take anything Wilson does for granted or lightly,” Rose said. “The richness of August Wilson’s words and his use of language is for me, like poetry to sit there and listen to. I think that people should hear the way Wilson’s expressing the way people feel in that era that speaks to us today that’s so relevant.”

In an interview with The Paris Review, August Wilson said he thought his plays offer white Americans a different way to look at black Americans.

“For instance, in Fences they see a garbageman, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbageman everyday,” Wilson said in the article. “By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this black garbageman’s life is affected by the same things – love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty.”

Recognizing those aspects of life are as much part of the garbageman’s life as they are in others can affect how society think about and deal with black people in their lives Wilson said in the article.

Asia Ward, a junior studying musical theater who plays Black Mary said she thought Wilson is a genius.

“There’s not a word or period or a comma that doesn’t have a thought or doesn’t have a subtext or doesn’t have a meaning behind it,” Ward said. “We weren’t alive in this time, all we do is read about it but this on stage, you can see it happening and you’re more affected by it.”

Ward said she thought the play could educate people on the culture in the era for African americans, slavery and African american values.

Williams said in 1904 where the story takes place, many of the slaves who should have been liberated by the emancipation proclamation weren’t allowed to leave.

“Their old masters kept them hostage and had them work,” Williams said. “They didn’t even tell them about the emancipation proclamation so this is really exemplifying all of this and more.”

Ojewuyi said he sees the production as a “Feast, as a gift for the audience and by extension for the community.”

“Its an African American story but also a story for everyone. For a kind of rebirth, a reawakening through redemption,” Ojewuyi said. “This is essential to our mission as a department of theater, we provide this other level of teaching, learning and sharing beyond the classroom with the university community and the larger community.”

Show times are 7:30 p.m. April 26 through 28 and 2 p.m. April 29 at The McLeod Theatre.

There will be a pre-show lecture at 1:30 p.m. on April 28 in the Christian H. Moe Laboratory Theater. Tickets for the show can be bought at online or at the McLeod Theatre box office.

Features editor Kitt Fresa can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @KittFresa.

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