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No one except perhaps Eugene O Neill and Tennessee Williams has aimed so high and achieved so much in the American theater John Lahr, The New Yorker 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 Ben Brantley, The New York Times Wilson s juiciest material The play holds the stage and its characters hammer home, strongly, the notion of newfound freedom Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Gem of the Ocean is the play that begins it all Set inPittsburgh, it is chronologically the first work in August Wilson s decade by decade cycle dramatizing the African American experience during the th century an unprecedented series that includes the Pulitzer Prize winning plays Fences and The Piano Lesson Aunt Esther, the drama syear old fiery matriarch, welcomes into her Hill District 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 Gem of the Ocean recently played across the country and on Broadway, with Phylicia Rashad as Aunt EstherEarlier in , on the completion of the final work of his ten play cycle surely the most ambitious American dramatic project undertaken in our history August Wilson disclosed his bout with cancer, an illness of unusual ferocity that would eventually claim his life on OctoberFittingly the Broadway theatre where his last play will be produced inhas been renamed the August Wilson Theater in his honor His legacy will animate the theatre and stir the human heart for decades to come I truly enjoyed this book I was charmed by the characters and engrossed by the dialog This is an excellent piece of work This is my first read of the Century Cycle I will reserve further comment and perhaps alter my rating upward after I have readof the books in the cycle Surely this book, and I would think the entire Century Cycle, should be required reading in any high school curriculum gwg As part of Black History Month, I wanted to include a play by August Wilson, a premier playwright who authored the Century Cycle ten plays each focusing on one decade of the African American experience in the 20th century Wilson won the Pulitzer for drama for both Fences and The Piano Lesson and additional awards for his other works Although the last play to be completed, Gem of the Ocean commences the Century Cycle by glimpsing life in 1900s Pittsburgh It is 1904, and older African American As part of Black History Month, I wanted to include a play by August Wilson, a premier playwright who authored the Century Cycle ten plays each focusing on one decade of the African American experience in the 20th century Wilson won the Pulitzer for drama for both Fences and The Piano Lesson and additional awards for his other works Although the last play to be completed, Gem of the Ocean commences the Century Cycle by glimpsing life in 1900s Pittsburgh It is 1904, and older African Americans like Aunt Ester, Solly Two Kings, and Eli still remember what slavery was like Ester keeps the paper recording her bill of sale in a drawer in her home, and Solly and Eli talk of the 62 people they delivered to safety while working on the Underground Railroad As senior citizens, they are experiencing a taste of freedom for the first time in their lives however, in many regards for them, slavery times were simpler A person was either free or a slave, yet any proud person, did not need a paper to remind him that he was free before the eyes of G D It is this wisdom that Aunt Ester attempts to impart on the younger generation who was only known freedom for their entire lives Black Mary and Citizen Barlow seek out Ester in order to better various facets of their lives At this time, African Americans are still grappling with life as free people They seek jobs that are not always available to them and paid a pittance for the labor they put in, often not enough to live on Many turn to stealing or striking on the job in hopes that future generations will enjoyrights than they do This is shown through the entire play as Caesar the law abiding citizen takes on a mob of strikers at a local mill, hoping to bring them to justice A theme in Wilson s plays is that he chooses one or two characters who are rooted in the past rather than the future In Gem of the Ocean, Aunt Ester and Solly are such characters It is difficult for them to come to terms with these new rights because they still see the world in terms of slavery versus freedom Yet, by imparting their wisdom, they hope that the younger generations can enjoy freedoms that they only dreamed of during their days in bondage Gem of the Ocean is the fourth of Wilson s plays that I have read If read chronologically it is an empowering read to commence the century cycle The reader sees how northern blacks lived prior to the beginnings of the Great Migration, as Wilson plants the seeds for the wave of blacks who eventually find their way north A powerful play, I hope to read the Century Cycle in its entirety August Wilson was a gem of a playwright, and Gem of the Ocean measures up to his other award winning works Set in 1904, The Gem of the Ocean is the first play in Wilson s Century Cycle sometimes called The Pittsburgh Cycle of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century It is a good place to start, for other than mere chronology it ably articulates the central themes of the cycle how freedom is always partial, something continually sought, how both our dreams and our cynicism may hold us back or spur us on in our quest for freedom, depending on our knowledge of, and relations Set in 1904, The Gem of the Ocean is the first play in Wilson s Century Cycle sometimes called The Pittsburgh Cycle of ten plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th century It is a good place to start, for other than mere chronology it ably articulates the central themes of the cycle how freedom is always partial, something continually sought, how both our dreams and our cynicism may hold us back or spur us on in our quest for freedom, depending on our knowledge of, and relationship with, the past.Central to Gem of the Ocean and the cycle is the ancient Aunt Esther, a spiritual leader and healer of the black community who is rud to be 285 years old Convinced he has killed a man, the young Citizen Barlow Citizen is his given name seeks the help of Aunt Esther in order to expiate his guilt and guide his decisions To heal him, she takes him on a hypnotic ritual journey to The City of Bones , traveling in The Gem of the Ocean, which is at one and the same time the small boat of his soul and the great boat of his people Citizen s journey and what he learns about himself on that journey constitute the core of the play.Those who only know Wilson through his great play Fences may be disappointed, for Gem lacks the vivid characters and intense personal drama of that earlier play It is an older man s play the ninth of the cycle to be written, although the first in order , reflective and meditative in its language and expressionistic in its dramatic technique Its characters are often littlethan mouths, stereotypes to speak the superb dialogue, and the plot lacks tension and urgency Still, the climax the scene of the boat journey itself is very fine, a marvel of expressionistic theater which brings the play to a satisfying conclusion I will end with the voice of Aunt Esther, speaking of the nature of boats and also hypnotizing Citizen with words in order to prepare him for his journey You ever seen a boat, Mr Citizen A boat is made out of a lot of things Wood and rope The sails look like bedsheets blowing in the wind They make a snap when the winds catch them Wood and rope and iron The workmen with their hammers ringing A boat is something It takes a lot of men to make a boat And it takes a lot of men to sail a boat Them was some brave men They left their family and didn t know if they was ever gonna see them again They got on that boat and went out into the world The world s a dangerous place, Mr Citizen It s got all kinds of harms in it It take God to Master the world The world is a rough place But there s gold out there in the world Them brave men went looking for it Remember I told you you could take a ride on that boat The wind catch up in them sails and you be off across the ocean The wind will take you every which way You need a strong arm to steer that boat Don t you feel it, Mr Citizen Don t you feel that boat rocking Just a rocking and a rocking The wind blowing. Profound and Meaningful I always find it astonishing how author playwright August Wilson was able to harness so much depth and meaning into a play Plays are short The average play usually doesn t runthan two hours Most plays in written form normally never exceed a little over one hundred pages Yet, an August Wilson play has a way of imparting so much in so little time that it puts to shame works with numerous words and pages I think it almost encourages one to check their self ItProfound and Meaningful I always find it astonishing how author playwright August Wilson was able to harness so much depth and meaning into a play Plays are short The average play usually doesn t runthan two hours Most plays in written form normally never exceed a little over one hundred pages Yet, an August Wilson play has a way of imparting so much in so little time that it puts to shame works with numerous words and pages I think it almost encourages one to check their self It s not how much you say, it s what your words are really saying It s not how many words are written but what is the meaning I shouldn t be surprised Each of August Wilson s plays that I have read so far, Fences and The Piano Lesson are full of this depth He had an art for delivering a message in such a way that you are knocked aback into the thoughts and ponderings of the message And yes, there is always a message A message that spawns discussion about the history and the imperative sociological issues within the African American community And not just as a whole but broken down into the sectors of gender, age, class and colorisim What I always find interesting is how he also relates his African American characters to the ratio of other races and classes that they live amongst in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Of course I m partial because this is my home city It makes his plays evenengrossing for me to see a glimpse of how African Americans of a different generation lived differently and sometimes similarly to how they live now in this city I read his plays and think of my great grandparents who migrated to Pittsburgh back in the early days after slavery and later during the great migration from the south How it must have been hard How I know it was hard from their stories And what I don t know, August is a type of historian who fills in the blanks Not only about the people but also about the city itself Pittsburgh is an old city In grade school we re not taught much about our own turf It is sad Another reason why I love reading these plays is because when August mentions these old streets, landmarks, locations and things that are no longer there, I start internet researching and educating myself about what all this modern everything has forgotten to teach us all About our history About our past Not only cultural historical but the geographical history of where we reside The internet is so full of information if one only looks These books also encourage me to find outabout my city and then wow people into discussions that encourage them to also want to learnThat s what I believe is the magic and talent of a good author The ability to enjoy an engrossing story, to write quote worthy profound statements and to open up the conversation, any worthwhile conversation, that keeps birthing dialogue within, throughout and after the pages of the book have closed In this case, also after the theater curtain has fallen 5 stars of course I wasn t as fond of the ending as I could have been but that took nothing away from the experience I had with this book I most definitely will read all the rest of his monumental plays and do recommend them to any and everyone This is modern classic reading.If you are looking for somethingabout the play, read the quotes I ve posted