A Noise Within Presents Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson

Directed by Gregg T. Daniel - Sept. 22 – Nov. 16, 2019. Pay What You Can Night is Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Published : Tuesday, September 17, 2019 | 4:23 PM

Gem of the Ocean Veralyn Jones as Aunt Ester. Photo by Daniel Reichert

A Noise Within (ANW) present the first chronological chapter in Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s American Century Cycle, Gem of the Ocean, directed by Gregg T. Daniel. Daniel previously directed ANW’s Ovation Award and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award-nominated production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun for the theatre’s 2017-2018 season. Gem of the Ocean will run Sept. 22 through Nov. 16, 2019. Previews begin Sunday, Sept. 22.

A special “Pay What You Can” (PWYC) performance will take place on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7:30 p.m. PWYC tickets go on sale at the box office window the day of the performance, beginning at 2 p.m., and are sold on a cash-only basis based on availability; limit of two tickets per person. There is a suggested price of $10.

There will be a symposium with California State University, Los Angeles, Professor of Pan African Studies, Staci Mitchell, on Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 6:45 p.m. prior to the 7:30 p.m. performance of Gem of the Ocean. With her academic background in womanism and black female identity and a Master of Arts in Theatre Arts from Cal State LA, Staci Mitchell is a theatre practitioner specializing in the investigation of the multiple identities and roles of African women in the Diaspora. Mitchell is a former acting member of the Robey Theatre Company and has been nominated twice for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Theatre Awards.

August Wilson unfolds the African American legacy in the first chronological episode of his celebrated American Century Cycle—a soaring, mystical tale of a man desperate for redemption in 1904 Pittsburgh. Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old “soul cleanser,” sends him on a spiritual journey that dissects the nature of freedom amidst oppression and spurs him to take up the mantle of justice.

“It’s enormously gratifying to be working with the first installment of August Wilson’s ambitious ten play cycle,” said Director Gregg T. Daniel. “Gem of the Ocean is a play filled with myth, mysticism, folklore, and history; it’s a uniquely American story.”

Gem of the Ocean will transport audiences from Pittsburgh’s historic Hill District, where Wilson grew up and famously made the setting for his ten-play American Century Cycle, to the mythical homeland in the play known as the City of Bones. Director Gregg T. Daniel recruited Scenic Designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, who was tasked with the challenge of bringing the two worlds together on stage.

“The play’s action takes place inside of a house, which serves as both stalwart protection from the outside world, and as a portal to a place of transformation and personal significance,” said Scenic Designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz. “The goal is to settle the audience into the day to day activities of life in this interior space, and then break it all apart to transport them on a mythical journey led by an elder from another age on a voyage of powerful ancient rituals.”

Viver Brasil. Photo by Tim Agler

Gem of the Ocean is the first August Wilson play that A Noise Within will produce. To celebrate the beginning of ANW’s journey into the world of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson, A Noise Within will partner with Viver Brasil, through its Noise Now program, for an Afro-Brazilian dance and fashion show, From Heaven [Orun] To Earth [Aiyê], following the first preview performance of Gem of the Ocean on Sept. 22 at 4:30 p.m. Viver Brasil will pay homage to the ancestral wisdom of African royalty as it salutes the Orixas – forces of nature – in captivating movement, rhythm, and costumes on ANW’s front lawn. This site-specific dance performance will be a collaboration between Los Angeles-based artists Shelby Williams-Gonzalez and Bianca Medina.

ANW’s Noise Now program has also commissioned Los Angeles photographer Ibarionex Perello to create a photo exhibition that explores the history of slavery and institutional racism to coincide with the opening of Gem of the Ocean. Titled The Three-Fifths Project, Perello’s work reflects the perpetual sense of tension, anxiety, and insecurity faced by men and women of color, while also evoking a sense of bloodline and legacy. The title is derived from the Three-Fifths Compromise in the United States Constitution, a conceit that not only claimed that blacks were less than human, but that their value was measured by how they benefited the wealth, power, and prosperity of white males. The Three-Fifths Project, presented with Pasadena Photography Arts, will be on display through the run of Gem of the Ocean, from Sept. 22 through Nov. 16.

The first rehearsal of Gem of the Ocean took place on Aug. 20, and Director Gregg T. Daniel took time to recognize and commemorate the fact that the month of August marked the beginning of slavery in America 400 years ago.

Daniel stood in front of his cast and said, “Memory insists that we go back and claim the past.” He also celebrated the present, recognizing that in the 2018-2019 season, August Wilson made American Theatre magazine’s “Top 20 Most-Produced Playwrights” list. A small libation prayer was recited with the cast and crew before the first read-through of the script.

Gem of the Ocean begins 40 years after slavery was abolished, and the play’s characters represent the first generation of African Americans who were free and had to learn to navigate a country filled with racism and inequalities.

As the first chronological play in Wilson’s American Century Cycle, which details the African American experience throughout the 20th century, Gem of the Ocean sets the tone for the rest of the series. The New York Times wrote, “August Wilson at the top of his form—a touchstone for everything else he has written.”

“We hope to see all 10 of Wilson’s American Century Cycle plays produced at A Noise Within in chronological order. It would be an honor for us to do that for our community,” concluded Artistic Directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott.

Single ticket prices for Gem of the Ocean start at $25 and are available at anoisewithin.org, by phone at (626) 356-3121, and at the box office located at 3352 East Foothill Blvd in Pasadena.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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