Monday, October 31, 2011

Gem Of The Ocean (Portland Playhouse) A

by August Wilson
directed by Michael Weaver

Eli   .....   Victor Mack
Aunt Ester   .....   Brenda E Phillips
Black Mary   .....   Andrea White
Rutherford Selig   .....   David Seitz
Solly Two Kings   .....   Kevyn Morrow
Citizen Barlow   .....   Vin Shambry
Caesar Wilkins   .....   Kevin Jones

sez says: I've seen this play before (in Ashland) and this is by far the better production.  It does not have the  fancy set that Ashland used, or sadly, as big an audience. But it is a better production.  It's focus is on the characters, their relationships and the situation the Black community faced (and indeed the nation as a whole faced) at the end of the 19th century. While the challenge was not fully articulated it was an ever present issue that required action.  That was, to determine "what is freedom" and how to get it -- as individuals and/or as a community? 

We have the two book ends: Solly and Caesar

Solly Two Kings had been a conductor on the Underground Railroad under slavery but when he got to Canada, he realized he could not live in freedom while others were still enslaved and he had to go back and do what he could to end slavery.  He was still working to help others--and he would not ignore the need for action to end new forms of slavery and oppression that were being instituted under different names, like debt and exploitation in the workplace.

Caesar had fought hard and suffered to establish himself in the world as it existed.  He was now wealthy and he was more than willing to accept his success alone.  He had not come up easy--and he was fine with being the instrument of the status quo (a sheriff) to keep others down.

In the middle are the remaining characters: primary among them is Aunt Ester (who appears in other Wilson plays). She is nearly 300 years old and carries the memory of those years.  She also knows about the City of Bones --the beautiful city of bones--where people speak with flaming tongues --and where there are 12 gate keepers.  (And when you leave the play you might want to ask yourself :What is the City of Bones?  One young man I talked to after the play told me he thinks that maybe we all have our own City of Bones, a place we need to visit and from which we might find what we need to direct us toward freedom.)

And there is Citizen Barlow--he wants his "soul washed" -- because he is carrying around a bucket of nails (things with which to build, or to use to crucify). His acquiring those nails led to a death that he feels guilty about.   He is the future--a man given a name that will be hard to live up to.

There is so much going on in this play that it would take all day--maybe all week--to write about. And I've already said more than I should--giving away some of the story.  In short, just go see this play, you'll be glad you did and I bet you'll feel better-off for the experience. It certainly will give you lots to think about.  In fact we found a nearly identical topic being explored in "The Kitchen" at National Theater Live...see the next review

mjc:  Portland Playhouse once again does a superb production of an August Wilson play.  This is the second production which is outstanding, better than other productions in bigger locations that we have seen.  Go see this play!

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