We managed to see the last night of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at the Ensemble Theater. This is the first play of Wilson’s Century Cycle, set in 1904. His stories of African American life are rich and complex, with information coming out piece by piece, and the entire puzzle only revealed at the end – or sometimes after musing on the ending after it’s all over. There is sadness, pain and the ability to just keep on in each of these plays. This play is the penultimate in writing time, but the first in chronological time.
I very much appreciate the Ensemble’s continuing to bring us Wilson’s plays, following up on Radio Golf (set in the 90s), the last play, served up last year. I saw Jitney (set in the 70s) last year as well, at the Madisonville Art Center, with producer and actor Lyle Benjamin featured. (Whenever you have a chance to see Lyle act – just take it. He is excellent!) The other one I’ve seen, at the Playhouse years ago, is Fences, set in the 50s.
The power of the mysticism in Gem is amazing, as well as the story of the bucket of nails as it is unraveled. And it introduces Aunt Ester, whose story weaves in and out of the cycle. I have been mesmerized by each of the Wilson plays I’ve seen, experiencing them not intellectually but viscerally. So I can’t tell you what to think about them – I can tell you to go experience them any time you can.