The late August Wilson’s 10-play The Pittsburgh Cycle is a milestone of both American and world drama. Gem of the Ocean, chronologically the first of the cycle, currently is a joint Guthrie-Penumbra production on the Guthrie’s new McGuire Proscenium Stage.
The Pittsburgh Cycle tracks 10 consecutive decades of African-American life and culture, from the 1900s Gem of the Ocean to the 1990s Radio Golf. They were not all written in sequence, nor do they reprise the same cast of characters and descendants.
But the cycle has some recurring figures, like 280-plus-year-old former slave Aunt Ester Tyler, portrayed by Marvette Knight, whose vast life span points to the element of “magical realism” that makes itself felt through Wilson’s earthily lyrical language and stark dramatic situations.
Gem of the Ocean reflects a white backlash suffered by the first generation of freed black slaves after the Civil War and its thwarted Reconstruction. James Cravens plays a scout born into slavery who takes solace at Aunt Ester’s home. Ester is called a “soul cleanser.”
“Reconstruction” refers to the federal effort to put the South back together after the war, and, ideally, to integrate freed slaves into society. Tragically, its purpose never was realized fully—and, some will say, has yet to be. Wilson’s historic Gem portrays its aftermath.
Obie-winner Lou Bellamy, known as the signature Wilson director, is staging this Gem.
Gem of the Ocean
Through May 18
Lavender Night at the Theater
Call box office, mention “AH”
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.