August Wilson’s titanic ‘Gem of the Ocean’ sets sail at Round House

August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” is a mountain of a play, epic from the outlet seconds when a personality named Citizen storms right into a 1904 Pittsburgh kitchen determined to peer an oracular lady who’s 285 years outdated. Within the chronology of Wilson’s cycle of performs sweeping during the 20th century of black American lifestyles, “Gem” sits initially whilst taking a heavy account of the previous.

That’s so much to reside as much as, and this new manufacturing at Spherical Area Theatre is frequently — despite the fact that no longer slightly all the time — up for the hike. The manager excitement is the crackling chemistry between the frantic younger Citizen (performed through Justin Weaks) and the sage elder, Aunt Ester (Stephanie Berry). As Citizen, an earnest younger guy from Alabama already at sea within the North, Weaks is shaken to his core; you’ll pay attention it in his quavering voice, see it in his inflexible frame. Berry’s Ester, then again, is cool as may also be. Ester is aware of the entire tale, and Berry acts the function naturally, letting mystical authority bloom from her personality’s wisdom, fairly than from any ornate supernatural taste.

That earthy, on a regular basis tenor typifies the forged’s means below director Timothy Douglas: The actors play those flesh-and-blood other folks with out laboring to make a masterpiece sing. However don’t be fooled. Wilson, writing close to the top of his lifestyles, created a near-operatic drama infused with lengthy speeches — confessions, testimonies or even sermons, actually, on historical past, on freedom and justice, and at the extraordinarily elusive high quality of interior peace, which the jittery Citizen sorely lacks. Wilson’s plot hinges on a easy bucket of nails stolen from a mill, but it climaxes within the slave industry’s brutal ocean crossings as Ester conjures one thing she calls the “town of bones.” In telling all this, Douglas’s actors are acquainted and level-headed, however they’re emotionally coiled all night time. The tempo in their speech by no means slacks, and the stress seldom backs off.

The spell cracks from time to time, despite the fact that, as the forged of 7 plays on dressmaker Tony Cisek’s picket raft of a country kitchen-dining space in a space the occupants name “sanctuary.” It’s moored through small boardwalks main offstage left and proper, and sponsored through a tall staircase and looming wall. Veteran audience of “Gem” — and there shall be masses, for Wilson stays certainly one of American theater’s staples — will watch for this design’s secrets and techniques to be published, and the display does certainly pack an incandescent marvel in the second one act. That the design is extra expressive than the actors’ our bodies in that quick is likely one of the snags that stay this “Gem” within the class of superb, however no longer flawless.


Stori Ayers (Black Mary) and KenYatta Rogers (Caesar Wilks) in “Gem of the Ocean.” (Kaley Etzkorn)

So, too, are speeches that may develop brittle at most sensible quantity, despite the fact that for essentially the most section Wilson’s figures are embodied with brisk self assurance. The complexity of the characters pops out: Alfred Wilson is amiable but bad as Solly Two Kings, a collector of canine waste (playwright Wilson had his causes) who stocks a powerful Underground Railroad previous with Eli (Jefferson A. Russell, stolid because the family’s sentry).

Wilson’s poetic way to personality will get particularly florid with Caesar, the sarcastically named lawman performed with a boxer’s snarl and stance through KenYatta Rogers. Caesar is the melodrama’s villain, but when he enters, Wilson we could him communicate and communicate and communicate, with the pugnacious Rogers handing over the strains like blows till this guy’s tangled adventure and tortured perception of justice. Punchlines are uncommon, so when Stori Ayers, as the intense housekeeper-cook, Black Mary, reveals amusing with Berry’s Ester, the comedian reduction is grand.

Wilson has been the sort of perpetual presence on levels for many years now that it’s simple to disregard what number of people haven’t been presented to this singularly deep frame of labor. The “Gem” on show at Spherical Area — the overall providing sooner than the corporate closes its Bethesda house in January for renovations and returns subsequent fall, appearing two displays within the intervening time at the Shakespeare Theatre Corporate’s Lansburgh level — will get the dimensions of the ambition and the blunt info of its other folks. And within the archetypal mother-child bond that evolves out of the myth between Berry’s calm Ester and Weaks’s journeying Citizen, the display reveals its soul.

Gem of the Ocean, through August Wilson. Directed through Timothy Douglas. Lighting, Andrew Cissna; costumes, Kara Harmon; sound design, Justin Ellington; track director, Darius Smith. With Michael Glenn. About 2 hours 45 mins. Thru Dec. 23 at Spherical Area Theatre, 4545 East-West Hwy., Bethesda. $30-$82. 240-644-1100 or roundhousetheatre.org.

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