Stage Review

Gem Of The Ocean (2004)

EW's GRADE
B

Details Opening Date: Nov 23, 2004; Lead Performance: Phylicia Rashad; Writer: August Wilson

August Wilson, in this ninth entry in his 10-play decade-by-decade cycle, once again cultivates a vividly thriving patch of ideas and lively life-forms on stage with Gem of the Ocean. It's 1904, and ancient, august, ornery Ester Tyler (Phylicia Rashad) — child of slavery, mother to all, priestess of remembrance — opens her ''peaceful house'' to a cross section of black Pittsburgh, as trouble brews at the local mill. In true Wilson fashion, this isn't so much a play as a teeming character terrarium. But Anthony Chisholm's Solly Two Kings, an incorrigibly free-spirited ex-slave, is an especially rich creation, a beanpole Falstaff, only with, y'know, pride and principles.

Originally posted Dec 20, 2004 Published in issue #798 Dec 24, 2004 Order article reprints