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Gem of the Ocean

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gem of the Ocean
Written byAugust Wilson
Date premieredApril 28, 2003
Place premieredGoodman Theatre, Chicago, IL
Original languageEnglish
SeriesThe Pittsburgh Cycle
Subjectin spiritual turmoil, a new life is sought and a magical journey across history and time is undertaken
Setting1904, the Hill District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Gem of the Ocean is a play by American playwright August Wilson. It is the first installment of his decade-by-decade, ten-play chronicle, The Pittsburgh Cycle, dramatizing the African-American experience in the twentieth century.


The play is set in 1904 at 1839 Wylie Avenue in Pittsburgh's Hill District. Aunt Ester, the drama's 285-year-old fiery matriarch, welcomes into her home Solly Two Kings, who was born into slavery and scouted for the Union Army, and Citizen Barlow, a young man from Alabama searching for a new life and in search of redemption. Aunt Ester is not too old to practice healing; she guides him on a soaring, lyrical journey of spiritual awakening to the City of Bones.


Aunt Ester Tyler
a former slave and a "soul-cleanser", who is the head of 1839 Wylie Avenue. She claims to be 285 years old and acts as the benevolent, if disciplinarian, ruler of the household. She entertains the romantic ambitions of Solly. She is a recurring character in several of Wilson's plays of the Pittsburgh Cycle.
Citizen Barlow
A young man from Alabama who comes to the house to be cleansed by Ester. He is enlisted to help construct a wall, and eventually journeys to The City of Bones.
Solly Two Kings
a friend of Aunt Ester. He is a former slave from Alabama who later became a conductor on the underground railroad and a scout for the Union Army. He makes a career of gathering up dog excrement, which he calls "pure", for manure. He carries a large walking stick and is in love with Aunt Ester. His real name is Alfred Jackson, but he calls himself "Two Kings" (referring to King David and King Solomon), and is nicknamed Solly.
"Black" Mary Wilks
Ester's housekeeper and her protégé in the art of Soul Cleansing. Caesar's sister. She performs most of the household tasks, but never to the satisfaction of Ester.
Caesar Wilks
Black Mary's brother, a policeman, baker and land-owner. He upholds the law at all costs. He practices strict capitalism and has no qualms with killing a man over a petty crime.
Aunt Ester's caregiver, he protects the inhabitants and is constructing a wall. He was Solly's comrade in his efforts on the Underground Railroad and for The Union Army.
Rutherford Selig
A peddler and friend of Ester's who frequently visits the house. He sells dog excrement ("pure"), pots, pans and other crockery.


1904, Pittsburgh: 1839 Wylie Avenue in the Hill District is the home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old former slave, who is a keeper of tradition and history for her people and a renowned cleanser of souls. The people who pass through her parlor and kitchen include Eli, Aunt Ester's protector; Black Mary, her housekeeper and protégé; Solly Two Kings, a former slave, conductor on the Underground Railroad and scout for the Union Army; Black Mary's brother, Caesar, a constable; Rutherford Selig, a peddler; and Citizen Barlow, a new arrival from down South who needs Aunt Ester to help him absolve the guilt and shame from a crime he's committed.

An incident at the local mill has ignited the African-American community: a black man is accused of stealing a bucket of nails. Rather than confessing to a crime he didn't commit, he jumps into the river and drowns. This makes him a martyr to his co-workers, who have gone on strike and are rioting. Caesar, the local law enforcement official, is in the middle of it. He arrests several people and shoots another.

Against this turbulent backdrop Aunt Ester launches Citizen on a spiritual journey aboard the legendary slave ship, Gem of the Ocean, to the mythical City of Bones. There, Citizen comes to understand the story of his ancestors and faces the truth about his crime and the man he wronged.

During Citizen's journey the local steel mill is discovered to be on fire. Caesar returns to the house and accuses Solly of arson. Solly strikes Caesar with his walking stick and flees. Aunt Ester and Rutherford Selig help Solly sneak out of the city, accompanied by Citizen Barlow. However, Caesar catches up to Solly and shoots him. The mortally wounded Solly is returned to the house and placed on the kitchen table where Black Mary and Ester clean and dress his body for burial. When Caesar comes to Aunt Ester's to question Citizen about the incident, Black Mary renounces her brother Caesar. Caesar leaves and Citizen dons Solly's coat and takes up his walking stick intending to continue where Solly left off, guiding his people on their journey toward freedom.


  • Gem of the Ocean premiered at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago on April 28, 2003.
  • Gem of the Ocean opened at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles on July 31, 2003.
  • In 2004 and 2005, the play ran at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway and received five Tony Award nominations. Ben Brantley of The New York Times wrote of the play: "A swelling battle hymn of transporting beauty. Theatergoers who have followed August Wilson's career will find in Gem a touchstone for everything else he has written".
  • Gem of the Ocean was produced by the Arena Stage (Washington, D.C.) as part of their 2006-2007 season [1][2]
  • Gem of the Ocean played at The Actors' Group (TAG) Theatre ( in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 18 - March 13, 2011.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at Hartford Stage([1]) in Hartford, Connecticut on May 12 - June 5, 2011.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at Hangar Theatre ( in Ithaca, New York from July 28 to August 6, 2011.
  • Gem of the Ocean was performed at The Sister Thea Bowman Memorial Theater ( in the Prescott Joseph Center for Community Enhancement in Oakland, California. August 2011 - Six Performances: Friday, Saturday evenings and Sunday matinees August 19–21 and 26th-28th.
  • Gem of the Ocean had a three-week run at The Human Race Theatre Company ( in Dayton, Ohio from March 30 to April 13, 2012.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at Playhouse on the Square ( in Memphis, TN from September 23 - October 16, 2011.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at Trustus Theatre ( located in Columbia, SC from 10 February 2012 until 4 March 2012. The play was the third play in the ten-play series to have been produced at this theater since its founding.
  • Gem of the Ocean played was produced in Cleveland Ohio's Karamu House from May 11 through June 4, 2012.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at Cygnet Theater Company 2013
  • Gem of the Ocean played at San Diego's Old Town Theater, January 24 through February 24, 2013.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at The Playhouse, 1911 South 3rd Street, Louisville, KY on April 9–13, 2014
  • Gem of the Ocean played at the Court Theater, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue on the University of Chicago campus - September 19 through October 11, 2015.[3]
  • Gem of the Ocean played at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA January 14 - February 14, 2016
  • Gem of the Ocean played at Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University, 420 Packer Ave, Bethlehem, PA on April 8–16, 2016.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, in Kansas City, Missouri, on February 23 - March 11, 2017.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at South Coast Repertory, in Costa Mesa, California, on October 14 - November 11, 2017.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland on November 28 - December 30, 2018.
  • Gem of the Ocean played at 1839 Wylie Ave. in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the location of Aunt Ester’s home, on August 24-September 22, 2019 by Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company[4]

Awards and nominations



  1. ^ Marks, Peter (5 February 2007). "Wilson's 'Gem': Flawed, But a Find Nonetheless". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  2. ^ "2006 - 2007 Season". Arena Stage. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  3. ^ BWW News Desk. "Photo Flash: GEM OF THE OCEAN Opens Tonight at the Court Theatre".
  4. ^ "Gem of the Ocean – Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company".

External links

This page was last edited on 16 November 2021, at 16:00
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