Walter Kerr Theatre, (12/06/2004 - 2/06/2005)

First Preview: Nov 23, 2004
Opening Date: Dec 06, 2004
Closing Date: Feb 06, 2005
Total Previews: 15
Total Performances: 72

Category: Play, Original, Broadway
Setting: 1904, the Hill District, Pittsburgh, PA; in the parlor of Aunt Ester's home at 1839 Wylie Avenue

Opening Night Production Staff

Theatre Owned / Operated by Jujamcyn Theaters (James H. Binger: Chairman; Rocco Landesman: President; Paul Libin: Producing Director; Jack Viertel: Creative Director)

Produced by Carole Shorenstein Hays and Jujamcyn Theaters (James H. Binger: Chairman; Rocco Landesman: President; Paul Libin: Producing Director; Jack Viertel: Creative Director); Associate Producer: Robert G. Bartner

Originally produced in April 2003 by Goodman Theatre; Original Production in July 2003 by Center Theatre Group / Mark Taper Forum (Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director); Produced by Huntington Theatre Company

Written by August Wilson; Original music composition and vocal arrangements by Kathryn Bostic

Directed by Kenny Leon; Assistant Director: Derrick Sanders

Scenic Design by David Gallo; Costume Design by Constanza Romero; Lighting Design by Donald Holder; Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier; Associate Scenic Design: Charlie Smith and Robert John Andrusko; Assistant Scenic Design: Emily Beck, Asaki Oda and Blair Mielnick; Assistant Costume Design: MaryAnn D. Smith; Associate Lighting Design: Vivien Leone; Assistant Lighting Design: Hilary Manners, Michelle Habeck and Carolyn Wong; Associate Sound Design: David Bullard; Assistant Sound Design: Tony Smolenski IV

General Manager: Stuart Thompson Productions and James Triner; Associate Gen. Mgr: Caroline Prugh; Assistant Gen. Mgr: Ryan Smith; Company Manager: Chris Morey

Production Supervisor: Neil A. Mazzella and Gene O'Donovan; Production Stage Manager: Narda Alcorn; Stage Manager: Neveen Mahmoud

Assistant to Mr. Wilson: Dana Levitin; Fight direction by J. Allen Suddeth; Dramaturg: Todd Kreidler; Casting: Harriet Bass; Press Representative: Barlow-Hartman Public Relations; Advertising: SPOTCo, Inc.; Photographer: T. Charles Erickson

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Opening Night Cast

Anthony ChisholmSolly Two Kings
Lisa Gay HamiltonBlack Mary
Phylicia RashadAunt Ester
Ruben Santiago-HudsonCaesar
Eugene LeeEli
Raynor ScheineRutherford Selig
John Earl JelksCitizen Barlow

Standby: Ebony Jo-Ann (Aunt Ester), Billy Eugene Jones (Caesar, Citizen Barlow), Ron Cephas Jones (Eli, Solly Two Kings), Tuck Milligan (Rutherford Selig) and Heather Alicia Simms (Black Mary)

Awards and Nominations

Tony Award®

 2005 Best Play [nominee] 

Produced by Carole Shorenstein Hays and Jujamcyn Theaters (James H. Binger: Chairman; Rocco Landesman: President; Paul Libin: Producing Director; Jack Viertel: Creative Director); Written by August Wilson

 2005 Best Actress in a Play [nominee] 

Phylicia Rashad

 2005 Best Scenic Design of a Play [nominee] 

David Gallo

 2005 Best Costume Design of a Play [nominee] 

Constanza Romero

 2005 Best Lighting Design of a Play [nominee] 

Donald Holder

Drama Desk Award

 2005 Outstanding Lighting Design [nominee] 

Donald Holder


AP: "Gem of the Ocean Impressive"

How do you handle freedom once you've got it? And what if you are not really free? Those two questions hover over August Wilson's majestic, mystical rumination called "Gem of the Ocean," which finally opened Monday at Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre after financial difficulties nearly derailed its New York run.

This haunting play, the latest in Wilson's decade-by-decade look at the black experience in 20th century America, is an impressive achievement. The production, directed with a sure hand by Kenny Leon, is rich in character and story. What's more, it's performed with a fierce commitment by a fine company of actors, led by a commanding Phylicia Rashad, who plays the matriarchal Aunt Esther.

The time is 1904 in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and the setting is a crumbling gothic parlor and kitchen at 1839 Wylie Ave., Aunt Esther's home. The old woman is a spiritual adviser to the city's black community. And she is the keeper of traditions that date to the arrival of the first slaves in America in the early 1600s.

Those traditions provide a sense of self for a people freed from slavery only four decades earlier. That freedom has proved to be elusive, particularly in 1904 Pittsburgh, where economic bondage has become just as stifling as life in the South before the Civil War. According to several of Wilson's carefully crafted characters, it's all in how you deal with those newfound chains.

"Freedom is what you make it," says Eli, Aunt Esther's stoic gatekeeper, who keeps an eye on his benefactor.

"You got to fight to make it mean something. ... What good is freedom if you can't do nothing with it?" says Solly Two Kings, a garrulous old man who once worked as a conductor on the Underground Railroad and now comes around Wylie Avenue to court Aunt Esther.

Solly, a colorful, humorous crank played to the hilt by Anthony Chisholm, is a rebel, a combative person who fondly recalls his heroic work for runaway slaves during the Civil War.

Yet only Caesar (played by Ruben Santiago-Hudson in a memorably villainous turn) knows how to make a profitable accommodation with the white establishment. "I got to play the hand that was dealt to me," he says with a hardened practicality that does not endear him to other members of the community.

Freedom can be confusing, too, especially to young Citizen Barlow (a solid John Earl Jelks), who arrives at the old woman's door seeking to cleanse his soul. He's seeking redemption for an unspecified act, a mystery that would be unfair to reveal because, besides being a master of poetic language, Wilson also is a storyteller supreme.

Aunt Esther takes Barlow on a journey to the City of Bones, that resting spot for slaves who never made it from Africa to the New World. It's an exhilarating adventure, one that Rashad relates with considerable theatricality.

Also in the cast is the lovely LisaGay Hamilton as Black Mary, Aunt Esther's protege, a determined young woman kept under the thumb of her strong mentor. When Mary finally breaks loose, it is with an anger that wins cheers from the audience.

Although it is the ninth play in the cycle to be written, "Gem of the Ocean," is the cycle's curtain raiser, the opening act for an achievement that is staggering in its ambition and scope,

Now, there is only one more play to go - "Radio Golf," which arrives next spring at Yale Rep in Connecticut. This final play, which takes place in the 1990s, also is set on Wylie Avenue, as Aunt Esther's house is about to be demolished. Let's hope it is as mesmerizing as "Gem of the Ocean."


Replacement/Transfer Info

The following people are credited as replacements or additions if they were not credited on opening night.

Walter Kerr Theatre

(12/6/2004 - 2/6/2005)
Press Assistant: Leslie Baden.

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