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Photo Flash: Rubicon's GEM OF THE OCEAN Opens Tonight, May 24

RUBICON THEATRE continues the company's 14th season tonight, May 24 with August Wilson's powerful and poignant drama GEM OF THE OCEAN. See photos of the cast below!

Rubicon's first play by August Wilson is also the first chronologically in the author's 10-play series dramatizing the African-American experience in the Twentieth Century. GEM OF THE OCEAN is a mystical play set in 1904 in Pittsburgh's Hill District. At a local mill, a man is accused of stealing a bucket of nails. But rather than confess to a crime he didn't commit, he jumps in the river and becomes a martyr to his co-workers. Riots break out and the workers begin to strike. Against this turbulent backdrop, another young man named Citizen Barlow arrives at the home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old healer who is the keeper of tradition and history for her people. She sends Citizen on a spiritual journey aboard the slave ship Gem of the Ocean-where he must confront his ancestors and then face the truth about himself.

GEM OF THE OCEAN presents a story of forgiveness and remembrance, of past and future, as the characters and the audiences are led on a cathartic and soul-stirring journey. A beautiful blend of the tangible and the spiritual, The New York Times described GEM OF THE OCEAN as a melding of "the plain and the lyrical, the particular and the eternal…into a luminous whole."

GEM OF THE OCEAN is helmed by Rubicon Artistic Director and Co-Founder JAMES O'NEIL, who has directed many of Rubicon's most acclaimed productions, including A Streetcar Named Desire (Indy Award for Direction), All My Sons (2004 Ovation Award for Best Production of a Play) and Driving Miss Daisy (NAACP Award for Direction). O'Neil recently wrote and directed Lonesome Traveler: A Journey Down the Rivers and Streams of American Folk, which was a Critic's Pick in the L.A. Times. (One of the most popular shows in the company's history, Lonesome Traveler returns to the Rubicon stage during the theatre's 15th anniversary season next year.) O'Neil is also an acclaimed actor, having appeared at Rubicon as Claudius in Hamlet and in theatres across the country in productions ranging from 1776 (John Adams), the American regional premiere of Return to the Forbidden Planet (Dr. Prospero), and the National Tour of Jesus Christ Superstar (Pontius Pilate). O'Neil received his B.F.A. from California Institute of the Arts.

Broadway legend Lillias White returns to Rubicon as the 285-year-old spiritual guide Aunt Ester. White starred in the World Premiere of The Best Is Yet To Come: The Music of Cy Coleman, which enjoyed a successful off-Broadway run following its initial engagement at Rubicon and was just nominated for a Drama Desk Award. She was most recently seen last February in her solo cabaret My Guy Cy for Rubicon's Broadway Cabaret Series. White's Broadway performances include Barnum,

Dreamgirls, Cats, Chicago, Once on This Island and, most recently, Fumilayo Anikulapo Kuti in FELA! (Tony nomination).

White was awarded Broadway's "quadruple crown" – the Outer Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, Friends of New York Theatre Award and The Tony Award – for her performance as Sonja in The Life. She has also been seen in several feature films including "Pieces of April" and "Game Six," and has been featured on numerous episodes of "Law & Order". Her distinctive voice is featured in the Walt Disney animated movie "Hercules."

Ventura audiences will find more familiar faces in the cast of GEM OF THE OCEAN, with the return of Anthony J. Haney and Chris Butler. Haney appears as Solly Two Kings, a friend of Aunt Ester's and a former conductor for the Underground Railroad; Butler appears as Caesar Wilkes, a local policeman and land-owner who turns his back on his own people in the name of capitalism. Haney returns to Rubicon after his acclaimed performance as Sam Semela in "Master Harold"…and the boys (Indy Award, Ovation nomination). Haney's work as an actor and director has been seen across the country, most notably at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, California, where he served as the company's first Associate Artistic Director. Earlier this year, he directed the world premiere of Buffalo'ed for the San Jose Stage Company. Butler previously appeared at Rubicon in You Can't Take It With You and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. His performances in the Fountain Theatre's Yellowman and the Matrix Theatre's Stick Fly earned him Ovation, NAACP, Drama Critics' Circle and Garland Awards for Best Actor and Best Ensemble, respectively. Butler has appeared on several television shows, including "The Good Wife," "NCIS: Los Angeles" and "Law & Order: SVU."

Keith Arthur Bolden appears as Citizen Barlow, the lost spirit with a troubled past. Bolden is a member of the Director's Lab at Lincoln Center and the Ensemble Studio Theatre/L.A., and his regional theatre credits include A Raisin in the Sun (Center Theatre Group), Atlanta (Geffen Playhouse), and Neighbors (Matrix Theatre Company). Bolden can also be seen on television in "S#!T My Dad Says!" with William Shatner and in the film "Repo Men" with Forrest Whittaker and Jude Law.

Pamela Shaddock appears as Black Mary, Aunt Ester's housekeeper and protégé. Shaddock was last seen at Rubicon in Defying Gravity and has appeared on stage in The Vagina Monologues (The Silver Lake Female Festival), Medea (Boston Court Theatre) and in the Theatre For Young Audiences program at the Mark Taper Forum. Her television credits include "Southland," "House M.D." and "Community."

Ventura resident TOM MUELLER plays Rutherford Selig, a friend of Aunt Ester's who peddles pots and pans. Mueller is the Co-Founder and Co-Creative Director of The Ventura Improv Company and has performed as Salieri in Amadeus and Clov in Endgame.

In addition to O'NEIL as director, the creative team for GEM OF THE OCEAN includes William Keeler (Dramaturg), THOMAS S. GIAMARIO (Set and Lighting Design), Marcy Froehlich (Costumes), David Beaudry (Sound Designer), KEVIN TONEY, Musical Consultant/Original Compositions, T. THERESA SCARANO (Set Dressing and Props), and Rod Menzies, Dialect Coach. ERICA CHRISTENSEN serves as Production Stage Manager.

O'Neil feels privileged to present the company's first August Wilson play and is a great admirer of Wilson's canon and its impact on the world. O'Neil specifically chose GEM OF THE OCEAN because of his experience with the play as an audience member. Though he has seen more than half of Wilson's 10-play cycle, he recalls that GEM OF THE OCEAN "took [him] to The Edge of [his] seat" and always kept him guessing. Says O'Neil, "The African-American experience of the 20th century lies at the heart of Wilson's cycle of plays, but the themes in Wilson's work connect audiences of all cultures." O'Neil said he related to the plight of Citizen Barlow, who comes to Aunt Ester seeking forgiveness and absolution for his haunted past. Such needs and emotions are universal to the human experience – as O'Neil puts it, "who has not had that experience?"

The Title Sponsor for GEM OF THE OCEAN is Barbara Meister AND BARBER FORD, VOLKSWAGEN, SUBARU & RV. The Co-Sponsors are SHELLEY AND RICK BAYER. The Hotel Sponsor is the PIERPONT INN, which offers a 15% discount on accommodations, food and beverages when Rubicon is mentioned.

Low-priced previews begin Wednesday, May 16 at 7:00 p.m. The opening night is Thursday, May 24, 2012 at 8:00 p.m. The run continues through June 10, 2012 at Rubicon's home in Ventura's Downtown Cultural District, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura, CA 93001. 

Beginning on May 23rd, the regular performance schedule is as follows: Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Talkbacks with the actors and director will be held after the 7:00 p.m. Wednesday performances on May 23, May 30 and June 6. Tickets for daytime student matinees are only $10 and may be reserved through Rubicon's education office at (805) 667-2912, ext. 230. Regular tickets range in price from $25 to $54 and may be purchased in person through the Rubicon Theatre Company BOX OFFICE, located at 1006 E. Main Street (Laurel entrance), or online at Twenty-four-hour-a-day ticketing is available online, thanks to a grant from the IRVINE FOUNDATION's Regional Arts Initiative. To charge by phone, call (805) 667-2900.

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