Lawrence Frascella
May 23, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Gem of the Ocean (Stage - 2003)

Current Status
In Season
run date
Greta Oglesby
Marion McClinton
August Wilson

We gave it an A

August Wilson is nearing the end of his majestic 10-play cycle tracking the black experience through each decade of the 20th century. Leaving the bookends for last (he has yet to present his ’90s play), he’s chosen Chicago’s Goodman Theatre to debut his 1900 — 1910 piece — and it’s a revelation. The central character is Aunt Ester (Greta Oglesby), a 300-year-old former slave with the power to cleanse souls. The action takes place in her large home, a stunning set of grayish blue echoing both the Civil War and the text’s complex water metaphors. The dialogue lacks the jazzier rhythms of Wilson’s other work (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson), recalling instead the courtly feel of a gospel spiritual. Throughout the play, Wilson states his big themes plainly, as if presenting a preface. And we begin to perceive the deeper pattern of his magnificent undertaking, which raises the bar for the grand summation he surely has in store. (312-443-3800)

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