Review: GEM OF THE OCEAN at TRT-Powerful and Presented to Perfection


By: Jun. 17, 2024
Review: GEM OF THE OCEAN at TRT-Powerful and Presented to Perfection
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“Sometimes you find bad luck and good luck in the same place.” By Aunt Ester in Gem of the Ocean

Two River Theater (TRT) is now presenting an extraordinary and compelling production of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean, expertly directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and featuring a stellar cast. It will be on the Red Bank stage through June 30. This is the seventh show in TRT’s commitment to stage all ten of Wilson’s epic plays in the American Century Cycle. The plays in the Cycle offer theatergoers an authentic voice and powerful themes concerning the African American community that resonate with a broad audience.

Review: GEM OF THE OCEAN at TRT-Powerful and Presented to Perfection Gem of the Ocean is set in the year 1904, in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The story takes place in the home of Aunt Ester, Eli, and Black Mary at 1839 Wylie Avenue.  A young man, Citizen Barlow is looking for refuge, and the family matriarch, Aunt Ester invites him to stay at the house. It is a troubled time with a recent suicide in town and an uprising at the local mill. People in the community continue to reckon with the scars of slavery while hoping for a better future.  But social justice has no easy path and it is Caesar Wilks, the ruthless brother of Black Mary, who proves to be an uncompromising enforcer of the law.

A master storyteller, August Wilson has written Gem of the Ocean with his signature humor, heart, and drama. Two River Theater’s accomplished cast breathes full life into each of their characters.   The company includes Stephanie Berry as Aunt Ester; Brian D. Coats as Eli; Crystal A. Dickinson as Black Mary; Brandon J. Dirden as Caesar Wilks; Bill Irwin as Rutherford Selig; Stephen Tyrone Williams as Citizen Barlow; and James A. Williams as Solly Two Kings. The troupe delivers Wilson’s spirited, fascinating discourse with its flashes of wisdom to perfection.  Audiences will be pleased to see the thespians who are returning to the Red Bank stage including Brian D. Coats, Crystal A. Dickinson, and Brandon J. Dirden.

Review: GEM OF THE OCEAN at TRT-Powerful and Presented to Perfection

Riveting scenes include Black Mary reading a letter to Solly Two Kings from his sister; Citizen entering the home on Wylie Avenue through the window; Aunt Ester welcoming Citizen to stay at the house; Caesar proclaiming his warped concept of justice; Citizen’s attempt to romance Black Mary; Solly and Eli speaking of how they brought people north to freedom;  Aunt Ester sending Citizen out to find two pennies side by side; Aunt Ester taking Citizen to the symbolic “City of  Bones” where Africans perished on slave ships; Solly planning a journey to Alabama to bring his sister north with Rutherford Selig; Eli reporting that the mill is on fire; and Black Mary telling Caesar that she no longer considered him to be her brother.  These moments and many more bring to life the struggles, yet deep bonds of the African American community in the early 1900’s.

Review: GEM OF THE OCEAN at TRT-Powerful and Presented to Perfection The creative team includes has done a wonderful job of bringing provincial Pittsburgh to the stage. The team includes scenic design by Lawrence E. Moten III; costume design by Nicole Jescinth Smith; lighting design by Sherrice Mogjanji; sound design and composer, Fitz Patton; intimacy and movement by Kaja Dunn.  The Stage Manager is Kate Croasdale and the Assistant Stage Manager  is Alex Murphy. Casting is by Caparelliotis Casting/David Caparelliotis and Joseph Gery.

August Wilson's works have been produced on Broadway, in regional theatres across the country and globally. His plays have received countless accolades and awards including the Tony Award, Great Britain’s Olivier Award and New York Drama Critics Circle Awards. We highly recommend for our readers see Gem of the Ocean.  It is an opportunity to experience Wilson’s abundant talents as a playwright in a superb production. We applaud Artistic Director Justin Waldman and Managing Director Nora DeVeau-Rosen for making it available to metro area audiences.

In conjunction with the production, Two River has curated an exciting lineup of free or nearly-free events inspired by Gem of the Ocean, for all to enjoy. They include Post Play Discussions; Exploring the Depths: They Psychology of the Black Woman; Juneteenth Plaza Celebration; Pride on the Plaza and more!

Two River Theater is located at 21 Bridge Street, Red Bank, NJ  07701. Gem of the Ocean can be seen through June 30.  The run time is 2 hours 45 minutes with one intermission.  There are matinee and evening performances available.  For more information please visit and call 732.345.1400.

Photo Credit: T. Charles Erickson


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