American Masters PBS, Feb 6, 2015
Phylicia Rashad was nominated for a Tony Award for her
portrayal of Ester in Gem of the Ocean. Here in a dramatic reading created for
August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, she enacts a scene in which Ester
reveals the existence of the spiritual and symbolic City of Bones.
Edited by Azizi Powell
This pancocojams post showcase a YouTube video of a production of August Wilson's play "Gem Of The Ocean".
Information about August Wilson and that play are included in this post along with descriptions of August Wilson's character "Aunt Ester".
The content of this post is presented for socio-cultural and entertainment purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to August Wilson for his cultural legacy. Thanks to Phylicia Rashad and all those who are featured in this clip and thanks to all those who were associated with this production of t"Gem Of The Ocean". Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post and thanks to the publisher of this clip on YouTube.
INFORMATION ABOUT AUGUST WILSON
"August Wilson (April 27, 1945 – October 2, 2005) was an American playwright. He has been referred to as the "theater's poet of Black America". He is best known for a series of ten plays collectively called The Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicle the experiences and heritage of the African-American community in the 20th century. Plays in the series include, Jitney (1982), Fences (1984), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1984), Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1986), The Piano Lesson (1987), King Hedley II (1999). Two of his plays received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and two of his other works won the Tony Award for Best Play. In 2006 Wilson was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.
His works delve into the African American experience as well as examinations of the human condition. Other themes have ranged from the systemic and historical exploitation of African Americans, as well as race relations, identity, migration, and racial discrimination. "...
INFORMATION AND COMMENTARY ABOUT GEM OF THE OCEAN
From https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/the-hill-district-of-the-1900s-comes-alive-in-august-wilsons-gem-of-the-ocean/Content?oid=15720946 Aunt Ester, the Hill District, and the surreal world of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean By Alex Gordon, August 27, 2019
"Anyone familiar with August Wilson's The Pittsburgh Cycle knows about 1839 Wylie Avenue. In reality, it's a mostly vacant lot on a steep, grassy slope in the Hill District, but in the Cycle, it's nothing so ordinary. This is the home of the neighborhood spiritual healer Aunt Ester, a place where friends, family, strangers, and neighbors can find refuge, a bed and a hot meal, maybe a spiritual cleanse.
While references to Aunt Ester and 1839 Wylie are found throughout the Cycle, it's not until Wilson's Gem of The Ocean — published in 2003, set in 1904 — that Ester and the house take center stage. And so it's only fitting that Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company is performing the play at the actual 1839 Wylie Avenue, with a one-room, open-air stage tenuously perched on a steep slope overlooking the Lower Hill.
The story features Ester's caregiver Eli (Les Howard) and housekeeper Black Mary (Candace Michelle Walker); her friends Solly Two Kings (Kevin Brown) and Rutherford (Marcus Muzopappa); and Mary's menacing brother Caesar (Wali Jamal), a police officer with a mean streak. The characters (minus Caesar) have an easy chemistry that suggests a tight-knit community and many long nights spent shooting the sh-t* in Ester's parlor. But the plot is set into motion by a new arrival called Citizen Barlow (Jonathan Berry), who's recently left his home in Alabama under shadowy circumstances. He's come to Ester for absolution, though he's not sure what that might look like.
Ester, it turns out, is 285 years old (this being 1904, that would put her birth year at 1619, a pointed year in the history of the slave trade in the U.S.). She has an all-knowing, comforting way of talking, but she's much more than a charismatic speaker. As the program explains, "Aunt Ester is the ultimate ancestor, the conduit for all the history of Black America." And it's in this context that Ester's role — inside and outside the confines of 1839 Wylie — becomes clear. Her mystical powers are vague, but the specifics don't matter. Ester has knowledge and a spirit that transcend the constraints of time and place.*
And so Ester (Chrystal Bates) takes Citizen on a spiritual
journey on the slave ship the Gem of the Ocean to a watery graveyard called the
City of Bones. Director Andrea Frye stages the scenes of magical realism with a
light hand, letting the setting — watching characters in 1904 as modern cars
whiz by below — convey the surreality on its own. Not all stories are better
experienced in their literal settings, but for a piece this richly bound to and
inspired by its location, the approach is incredibly powerful. The set is so
effectively insular, so at odds with its surroundings, that it feels that Ester
could, if she wanted, snap her fingers and detach the room from its soil and
send it sailing into the sky. That doesn't happen, but what does is almost
equally fantastic, unbelievable, and affecting."
*These sentences are given in italics to highlight them.
"Gem Of The Ocean"Date premiered April 28, 2003
Place premiered: Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL
Gem of the Ocean is a play by American playwright August Wilson. It is the first installment of his decade-by-decade, ten-play chronicle, The Pittsburgh Cycle, dramatizing the African-American experience in the twentieth century.
The play is set in 1904 at 1839 Wylie Avenue in Pittsburgh's Hill District. Aunt Ester, the drama's 285-year-old fiery matriarch, welcomes into her home Solly Two Kings, who was born into slavery and scouted for the Union Army, and Citizen Barlow, a young man from Alabama searching for a new life and in search of redemption. Aunt Ester is not too old to practice healing; she guides him on a soaring, lyrical journey of spiritual awakening to the City of Bones.
Aunt Ester Tyler
a former slave and a "soul-cleanser", who is the head of 1839 Wylie Avenue. She claims to be 285 years old and acts as the benevolent, if disciplinarian, ruler of the household. She entertains the romantic ambitions of Solly. She is a recurring character in several of Wilson's plays of the Pittsburgh Cycle.
A young man from Alabama who comes to the house to be cleansed by Ester. He is enlisted to help construct a wall, and eventually journeys to The City of Bones.
1904, Pittsburgh: 1839 Wylie Avenue in the Hill District is the home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old former slave, who is a keeper of tradition and history for her people and a renowned cleanser of souls. The people who pass through her parlor and kitchen include Eli, Aunt Ester's protector; Black Mary, her housekeeper and protégé; Solly Two Kings, a former slave, conductor on the Underground Railroad and scout for the Union Army; Black Mary's brother, Caesar, a constable; Rutherford Selig, a peddler; and Citizen Barlow, a new arrival from down South who needs Aunt Ester to help him absolve the guilt and shame from a crime he's committed."...
DESCRIPTIONS OF THE CHARACTER "AUNT ESTER" IN AUGUST WILSON'S PLAYS
“She Make You Right With Yourself”: Aunt Ester: Masculine Loss And Cultural Redemption In August Wilson’s Cycle Plays
By Cynthia L. Caywood and Carlton Floyd
"In Two Trains Running introduces an offstage character who he comes to see as “the most significant persona of [his ten play] cycle. (2005). This character is Aunt Ester, the centuries old former slave who, Wilson says, is “the embodiment of African wisdom and tradition- the person who has been alive since 1619…and has remained with us.” (Denzell, 2006 , 255). In the play, which is set in Memphis Lee’s Pittsburgh diner in 1969, Aunt Ester provides solace and salvation to several of the characters who are attempting to find guidance through their turbulent and changing world. She urges them to reconnect with their past. Her advice is simple: “If you drop the ball, you got to go back and pick it up.” (Wilson, 1963, 109).
August Wilson proclaimed the centuries old matriarch, Aunt Ester, his most significant character. Her presence incarnates a key Wilson idea: The need for African Americans to move forward into the future through embracing their past. This movement has been hindered by African Americans embracing European American values, particularly African American men, who have been hopelessly disenfranchised by European American definitions of masculinity that reward assimilation and result in the rejection of the African sensibilities that Wilson saw as essential to African American survival. Wilson's Decalogue documents repeatedly the need for African American men to reconnect with traditional, culturally rooted African sensibilities as they have been preserved by Aunt Ester. Ultimately, Aunt Ester must die to make way for a male redeemer whose presence symbolizes a restoration of this traditional African ethos in African American lives, a presence not yet existent, but one for which a glimmer of hope remains."...
Gem of the Ocean
February 6, 2007 by Lorraine Treanor
Produced by Arena Stage
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
…."Once you get past the artifice of a 285 year-old Aunt Ester (yes, that was a stretch for me, too), you can sit back and let [playwright August Wilson]’s language and ideas have their way with you. Aunt Ester represents the ancient, mystical matriarch referred to in many of Wilson’s works. Now, in this earliest (1904) of Wilson’s 20th century series, we finally get to see what all the fuss was about. Aunt Ester is the faith healer of souls, keeper of history, community anchor, spiritual mother, collective conscience and consciousness, bridging from African roots across the Diaspora to the current black experience. Yes, I know it sounds heady, but Wilson pulls it off through exquisite character development and masterful story telling.
Wilson recognizes that we can all use help escaping from the
various chains of emotional slavery that oppress, maim and kill us, and that,
for me, is the most powerful message in Gem of the Ocean."...
From https://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00001593/00001 "Discovering Aunt Ester In Gem Of The Ocean By August Wilson"
by Anedra D. Johnson
..."Spearheading this spiritual journey to redemption, Aunt Ester is the “critical figure mediating between the African past and the African American present” (Elam 184) in Gem of the Ocean. Wilson cleverly uses Aunt Ester to represent the blood memory that connects Africa to the American culture. Through Aunt Ester, he seeks to infuse a spirit that speaks to the African American culture; a spirituality that represents and connects African Americans to one another. Wilson‟s tactic is revealed via the parables Aunt Ester tells prior to dispensing advice, and in the ritualistic manner in which she leads others to their redemption."...
This pdf excerpt is part of a University Of Florida, Graduate School Project, Degree Of Master Of Fine Arts, 2011]
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