August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean
“A swelling battle hymn of transporting beauty.”
–The New York Times
An iconic story of freedom, justice, and salvation from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Fences.
Pittsburgh, 1904: Amidst boiling racial tensions, Citizen Barlow arrives at the home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old healer, who helps him seek redemption from a mistake that’s cost another man his life. Aunt Ester sends Citizen on a powerful, mystical journey to the City of Bones in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean — where he must understand the past in order to forge his own future.
Gem of the Ocean is the first chronological work in August Wilson’s 10-play, Pulitzer Prize-winning Century Cycle, dramatizing African American life in the 20th century.
“Wilson’s juiciest material. The play holds the stage and its characters hammer home, strongly, the notion of newfound freedom.”
The Hill District
The Hill District is a 1.4-square-mile section of Pittsburgh that has been predominantly African American since the 19th century. This small strip of Pittsburgh is where a majority of the Century Cycle Plays are located. To understand more, read to explore where these plays come from!
Gem of the Ocean Plot Summary
Spoiler alert! A brief overview of Gem of the Ocean.
From the Director: Chip Miller
Director Chip Miller on the significance of memory, history, and ancestral connection in August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean and the other plays of Wilson's Century Cycle.
Behind the Curtain: Spotlight on Aunt Ester
Over the course of approximately 26 years, Wilson wrote one play for each decade in the 20th century. At the center of this tapestry stands Aunt Ester, the character which Wilson himself deemed the most significant in his plays.
The Century Cycle
Beginning in 1904 with Gem of the Ocean and ending in 1997 with Radio Golf, August Wilson's 10-play American Century Cycle charts the lived experience of African Americans throughout the 20th century. Learn more about each of these plays and their connection to one another.
Gem of the Ocean Reading List
Calling all readers! Multnomah County Library put together a reading list inspired by our production of August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean.
August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean
Written by August Wilson
Solly Two Kings
Aunt Ester Tyler
Understudy, Aunt Ester Tyler & Black Mary
Understudy, Citizen Barlow & Caesar
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Lawrence E. Moten III
Phil Johnson & Evan Duckworth
Iran Micheal Leon
Coty Raven Morris
Assistant Stage Manager
Fight & Music Captain
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Associate Scenic Designer
Assistant Lighting Designer
Laurel Jane Vonderau
Meet the Cast & Creative Team
Bobby is the co-artistic director of The Beirut Wedding World Theatre Project, part of the leadership body of Sojourn Theatre, and a long-time member of Actors’ Equity Association. He has worked in theaters literally from New York, NY, to Honolulu, HI. In Portland, Bermea has performed with Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Playhouse, Profile Theatre, Sojourn Theatre, Cygnet Productions, Tygres Heart Theater, Milagro, and Beirut Wedding, and he is very excited to return for this, his third stint at Portland Center Stage. He has won four Drammy awards for his work.
I want to thank PCS for helping me get closer to my theatrical bucket list of completing August Wilson’s 10-play cycle. As a proud member of SAG-AFTRA for more than 30 years in good standing, I would include film and TV as part of the completion. MUCH LUV. P.S. I only need four more.
Isaac is an award-winning actor and director who was last seen at Portland Center Stage as Mr. Darcy in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley. Gem of the Ocean marks his first opportunity to bring August Wilson’s words to life, and he is deeply honored by the responsibility. Isaac is a company member at Third Rail Repertory Theatre and has worked locally with Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland Playhouse, CoHo Productions, Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble, Broadway Rose Theater Company, and many others. He’s appeared onscreen in American Vandal, Portlandia, The Birch, Lean on Pete, and the upcoming HBO series Wondermill. Isaac is a proud member of AEA, SAG/AFTRA, and SDC.
Treasure would like to first give thanks to the direct ancestors that paved the way for them: Toni B., Michael L., Gloria B., Florence W., Louise B., Lee B., and the many others whose names and stories may be lost in time but are written within their blood. Hailing from Florida, by way of South Carolina, Treasure is a Black, queer, gender-variant writer and performer. Recent performance credits include Hot N’ Throbbing (Profile Theatre), Vinegar Tom (The Theatre Company), Mlima’s Tale (Profile Theatre), Weighted Bodies (Risk/Reward), and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, and Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Portland Center Stage). Treasure is beyond grateful to be a part of this creative team and deeply honored to embody a character as culturally important as that of Aunt Ester.
Victor is an award-winning actor and director, and a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts B.F.A. drama program.
Henry attended the Denver Center Theatre Academy and holds a B.A. in theater from the University of La Verne. Henry is making his debut with Portland Center Stage’s August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean. Other regional works include: Ayano (Ensemble Studio Theatre), The Threepenny Opera (A Noise Within Theatre), Detroit ‘67 (Actors Studio Theatre), Besides Herself (Ensemble Studio Theatre), Fraternity (Ebony Repertory Theatre), Dutchman (Shoe Box Theatre), Streamers (The Actors Studio), Inspecting Carol (Artists Repertory Theatre), Havana Bourgeois (The Ford Theatre), A Fig For Such A Life (Tears of Joy Theatre), Ojai Shakespeare Festival, Romeo & Juliet (The Actors Ensemble), Much Ado About Nothing (Tygres Heart Shakespeare Company), Richard II, The Trial (La Bodega Theatre). Film/TV: Yellowstone, Better Call Saul, Alley Way, Coroner: I Speak for The Dead, Z Nation, Grimm, The Never List, The Competition, Identity, Entering the Unknown, Aftershock, Aurora, and Awake.
Andrea feels that it is by God's divine design that she was chosen to be selected to play Black Mary, a role she's wanted to play since college. This is her first August Wilson production and she couldn't be more excited. Previous acting credits include: Last Signs of June (Ori), See Me (Ayira), School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play (Paulina), Redwood (Allie/Alameda), and The Wolves (#13). Andrea is on an adventure and she’s grateful that this play is teaching her how to stand in the light.
Victoria is a theater veteran with two decades of experience under her utility belt. Victoria was transplanted here from Sacramento and quickly put down new roots. She loves playing classical and dramatic roles, and her sweet dog, Othello!
Hailing from Washington, D.C., Justin is pleased to be working with Portland Center Stage. He would like to thank his loved ones for their support. He offers a special dedication to Johnny Lee Davenport, for showing the importance of staying in the fight as an artist. Much love.
August Wison (April 27, 1945 – October 2, 2005) authored Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of African Americans, decade-by-decade, over the course of the 20th century. His plays have been produced at regional theaters across the country, and all over the world, as well as on Broadway. In 2003, he made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned. Wilson’s works garnered many awards, including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain’s Olivier Award for Jitney; as well as eight New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, Jitney, and Radio Golf. Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson. Wilson’s early works include the one-act plays The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming, and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships in Playwriting, the Whiting Writers Award, the 2003 Heinz Award, a 1999 National Humanities Medal awarded by the president of the United States, and he received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, as well as the only high school diploma ever issued by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He was an alumnus of New Dramatists, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 1995 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and, on October 16, 2005, Broadway renamed the theater located at 245 West 52nd Street as The August Wilson Theatre. Additionally, Wilson was posthumously inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2007. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA, and lived in Seattle, WA, at the time of his death. He is immediately survived by his two daughters, Sakina Ansari and Azula Carmen Wilson, and his wife, costume designer Constanza Romero.
Chip is a director and producer, currently in the role of associate artistic director at Portland Center Stage. They were previously the artistic associate/resident director at KCRep. Directing: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the world premiere of Redwood (Portland Center Stage); Journeys to Justice (Portland Opera); School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play, Welcome to Fear City, Sex with Strangers, A Raisin in the Sun (KCRep); the world premiere of Becoming Martin by Kevin Willmott (The Coterie Theatre); dwb: driving while black (Lawrence Arts Center, Baruch Performing Arts Center); 4:48 Psychosis (The Buffalo Room). Chip has developed work with playwrights including Kevin Wilmott, Kara Lee Corthron, Brittany K. Allen, Catherine Trieschmann, Darren Canady, Andrew Rosendorf, Susan Kander and Roberta Gumbel, Michelle T. Johnson, and Michael Finke. They have developed work at The William Inge Theatre Festival, NYU’s New Plays for Young Audiences, La Jolla Playhouse’s DNA Series, PCS’s JAW Festival, The Midwest Dramatists Center, KCRep’s OriginKC New Works Festival, The Living Room Theatre, and Musical Theatre Heritage. Education: NYU, Tisch School of the Arts.
Lawrence’s Broadway credits include: Chicken & Biscuits (Circle in the Square), What the Constitution Means to Me (also on tour; as associate). Regional: Trouble in Mind (The Old Globe), The West End (Cincinnati Playhouse), The Sound Inside (TheaterWorks Hartford), Hype Man (ART, Company One), Gloria (ACT), STEW (Page 73), Hi, Are You Single? (Woolly Mammoth), Feeding Beatrice (Repertory Theatre of St. Louis), The White Chip (59E59 Theaters), Native Son (PlayMakers Repertory Theatre), House of Joy (California Shakes Theater), A Human Being, of a Sort (Williamstown Theatre Festival), The Royale (Capital Repertory Theatre), Behind the Sheet (Ensemble Studio Theatre). Lecturer: Princeton University. Member: USA 829, Wingspace Theatrical Design. Education: B.F.A. from Ithaca College. motendesigns.com
Wanda is an award-winning costume designer, visual artist, and writer. Wanda has costumed plays for more than 30 years and has an extensive amount of credits, including the recent production of Pipeline and Crowns at Portland Playhouse, and School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play for Portland Center Stage/Artists Repertory Theatre. Wanda's first production for Artists Repertory Theatre dates back to 1989. Her ART credits include It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, Skeleton Crew, An Octoroon, and We Are Proud To Present. Wanda is the resident costume designer for PassinArt, established in 1983, where her credits include No Play, Black Nativity, August Wilson’s Two Trains Running, Gospel of Loving Kindness, The Pews, Pill Hill, Flyin’ West, and Smoldering Fires.
Marika is a New York City-based designer of new and classic plays, musical theater, opera, dance, experimental theater, puppetry, and site-specific performance. Also with Portland Center Stage: School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play. Recent and upcoming projects include: Sweeney Todd (Hangar Theatre), Generation Rise (Ping Chong & Co, New Victory Theater), Fly Away (featured in painter Derek Fordjour's solo exhibit Self Must Die at Petzel Gallery, dir. Nick Lehane), Rent, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (ACT of Connecticut), No Child, Memphis, Peter and the Starcatcher (Cape Fear Regional Theater). marikakent.com
Phil is a visual and theatrical artist based in Portland and the host of the Radical Listening Podcast (Coho Productions). He is a multidisciplinary artist who likes to express himself in as many art forms as possible. He identifies as a futurist and surrealist who focuses on the realities of the human condition, especially as it relates to his experience as an African American. As a technologist, Phil likes to find ways to use technology to imagine these future worlds, whether it is creating using virtual reality, binaural recordings, or new programming software that enhances the theatrical experience. As a theatrical artist, Phil is curious about the performer-spectator relationship and enjoys finding ways to deconstruct theater norms. Phil has a B.F.A. and M.A. from Ohio University. If you would like to learn more, comment using @philjohnsonlive or visit philjohnsondesignstheworld.com for more content.
Iran Micheal is thrilled to be designing his first show at Portland Center Stage. He is a licensed cosmetologist in California and Oregon. He has designed shows throughout the West Coast as a hair/wig designer and costume designer. Iran Micheal is currently the resident hair/wig designer and supervisor for Great Lakes Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Previous work includes wig master and interim key hair stylist for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Other theaters include: Celebration Theatre, The Pasadena Playhouse, Hollywood Bowl, A Noise Within Theatre, Azusa Pacific University, and Askew Theatre Company, which he also co-founded. IG: @iml_design_elements
Kamilah is a playwright, dramaturg and educator originally from North Carolina. She holds a B.F.A. in theater education from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and was an NC teaching fellow. Kamilah has spent several seasons at celebrated regional theaters across the country, including Triad Stage in Greensboro, NC, Asolo Repertory Theater in Sarasota, FL, and Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ. Her play Nick & The Prizefighter was a semifinalist in the 2021 Bay Area Playwright’s Festival and won the 2021 Urbanite Theater Modern Works Festival.
Coty is a proud alumnus of Texas State University, San Marcos, and Michigan State University, where she obtained a master’s degree in choral conducting. Coty is a sought-after clinician and artist across the country and has recently served as the clinician and headliner for Florida ACDA and Minnesota ACDA. Along with her work at Portland State University as the visiting professor of choir, music education, and social justice, she is also the founder of Being Human Together, a budding music education community striving to normalize difficult topics in our field through conversation and connection. BHT seeks to discuss traditionally taboo topics like mental health, systemic oppression, diversity, and inclusivity. Her choirs received consistent Sweepstakes and Division I ratings at UIL and choral festivals.
Michael is a studio professor at UC Santa Barbara, where he teaches voice, speech, text, and applied theater. His other teaching credentials include Yale School of Drama, Temple University, Theatre Conservatorium in Brussels, Royal Conservatoire in Liege, Shakespeare and Company, Shanghai Theatre Academy, and Theatre of Changes in Athens. He has acted in over a hundred productions in theater, film, and television. Among Michael’s coaching credentials are the American Players Theatre, Cleveland Play House, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, and The Ensemble Theatre. Morgan spearheaded The Odyssey Project (odyssey.projects.theaterdance.ucsb.edu), an initiative centering on incarcerated teens finding their voices through theater. He is a designated Linklater teacher, certified Fitzmaurice Voicework teacher trainer, and the author of Constructing the Holistic Actor: Fitzmaurice Voicework. Michael recently published an essay with Routledge in the volume Teaching the Classics in the US Prison System. More information about his social justice theater work can be found here: michaelmorgan.online.
Kristen was born and raised on the island of Oahu where she started her theatrical stage combat training. She has been doing theatrical stage combat for 16 years and, for the past 10 years, she has been working as a fight choreographer and teacher in the city of Portland, OR. She owes her training to Dueling Arts International and her time as assistant fight choreographer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (2009-2010) with Resident Fight Director U. Jonathan Toppo. She has received multiple awards for Best Fight Choreography, most recently Tender Napalm (2018) and Girl in the Red Corner (2019). Outside of Portland, she has worked at Utah Shakespeare Festival and Idaho Repertory Theatre. When she is not a fight choreographer, Kristen is a proud AEA stage manager and racial justice facilitator.
Grateful to be making theater again! Mark is a proud union member of Actors’ Equity Association since 1985. Special thanks to Kristina Mast and Danny Rosales, and for the production staff who “make the sausage” so seamlessly and with so much grace. Prior to Portland Center Stage, Mark toured nationally and internationally with musicals including Dreamgirls, The King and I with Rudolf Nureyev, How to Succeed Without Really Trying, Grand Hotel, The Phantom of the Opera, Rent, and Jersey Boys. Other Portland credits include several summers with Broadway Rose Theatre Company in Tigard. Other regional credits include Alley Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, and Casa Mañana Theatre. WE GOT THIS!!
Kristina is a stage manager from Corvallis, OR. Previous Portland Center Stage credits: Wild and Reckless, Lauren Weedman Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and JAW. Select stage management credits: Beckett Women, Our Ruined House, Uncle Vanya, [or, the whale] with Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble; Melancholy Play, Kiss, Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again, Men on Boats with Third Rail Repertory Theatre; Wakey Wakey with Portland Playhouse. She is a company member and resident stage manager for PETE.
Danny is happy to be working on Gem of the Ocean. Previous Portland Center Stage credits include The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Frida … A Self Portrait, The Magic Play, and Every Brilliant Thing. When he’s not busy working on shows, you can usually find him playing with trash or baking too many pies. But silliness set aside, Danny is grateful to be working on this fantastic show with such amazing people. Lastly, he would like to thank his friends, family, and doggos for all their love and support.
RaChelle is an actor, director, and playwright as well as the current artistic associate and IDEA manager at Portland Center Stage. This is her first time in the role of assistant director, and she is thrilled to be working on such a beloved project.
What Critics Are Saying
"August Wilson is one of the best American Playwrights of all time, and the Century Cycle is one of the greatest achievements in American theatre." – BroadwayWorld
"By story’s end, Gem of the Ocean reminds the audience of the fact that while freedom is the ideal, it isn’t free—and that for Black Americans, that bill has yet to be paid." – Willamette Week
"This is a transcendent play filled with magical realism and symbolism and words that will rock you to your soul." – Judy Nedry
"Never have I felt so much gratitude to actors for their vulnerability. Even the curtain call was full of emotion." – PDXParent
"August Wilson, however, transformed it into a shimmering image of spiritual redemption, of enduring strength and hope beyond hope." – Oregon ArtsWatch
"Introspective and keenly engaged with the problems of the world … the play shows that to fix what influences you, you first have to understand, and come to terms with, yourself." – Chicago Critic
"Wilson’s text is epically lyrical, almost operatic; the speeches are expansive and eloquent, almost arias. And his characters and interwoven storylines are richly textured." – DC Metro Theater Arts
"Wilson's masterpiece rings true today. … Gem was — and is — the great culmination of all for which Wilson stood. … He took a lot more time with Gem, and he was at the point in his career when he was most willing and able to take a risk, to lose the confines of realistic drama and to express the two great messages for his audiences that he spent his entire career shaping and honing." – Chicago Tribune
"As we hear the characters reveal their truths and hear Wilson reveal the effects of slavery and the sudden, incomplete, unsupported freedoms for the former slaves, we hear and feel history. But the characters move forward in hope … And, remarkably, they tell us to move forward in hope, too." – Pasadena Star News
"Gem of the Ocean combines a bountiful interweaving of historical references, personal and emotionally-tinged character confessionals, and mystical, magical elements to fashion one of the most fascinating and engaging works of drama I have experienced." – BroadwayWorld
What Audiences Are Saying
"See this production and immerse yourself."
"A stellar and emotionally gripping production. Thanks PCS!"
"Glad to see such a strong cast for this powerhouse show!"
"African-American history is American history, and it is our history. The play brings it to life in a way that touches us on an emotional level."
"It was worth seeing – complex, with multiple layers to discuss afterward."
"The period and story of cross-generation storytelling was compelling."
"Thought evoking play. Great to see theater again!"
"As a nonbinary person, it was also comforting to see that there were multiple people in the cast/creative team who also use they/them pronouns."
"Supporting Black playwrights' work and keeping it alive."
"It was outstanding. Hard to describe all the varied emotions it evoked."
"It was our first play at the Armory since COVID shut everything down. Being back at the armory was awesome!"
"Well worth seeing."
Portland Center Stage is committed to identifying & interrupting instances of racism & all forms of oppression, through the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity, & accessibility (IDEA).