Goodman Theatre Plucks a Gem Out of the Ocean as Wilson Drama Premieres, April 28 | Playbill

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News Goodman Theatre Plucks a Gem Out of the Ocean as Wilson Drama Premieres, April 28 Gem of the Ocean, August Wilson's latest drama in his ongoing look at the African-American experience in every decade of the 20th century, will have its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago on April 28. Previews began on April 18.

Greta Oglesby as Aunt Ester in Gem of the Ocean. Photo by Michael Brosilow

The production, under Marion McClinton's direction, plays until May 24.

The story is set in 1904. Greta Oglesby will play Aunt Ester, a resident of Pittsburgh's Hill District who is celebrate her 287th birthday. In the story, she is visited by Citizen Barlow, played by Kenny Leon (better known as the former artistic director of Atlanta's Alliance Theater). Citizen is convinced he has committed a mortal sin and wants Ester to wash his soul clean.

The title comes from the 1843 patriotic tune by David T. Shaw, "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean," with its refrain of "When borne by the red, white and blue." The song was very popular during Lincoln's time and was often played by the U.S. Marine Band.

Also in the cast are Paul Butler as Eli; Anthony Chisholm as Solly Two Kings; Peter Jay Fernandez as Caesar; Yvette Ganier as Black Mary; and Raynor Scheine as Rutherford Selig.

There is a lot of Wilson experience in the cast. Scheine has previously played Rutherford Selig, a character that also appeared in Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Ganier was in the Goodman production of King Hedley II. Chisholm acted in Two Trains Running at the Goodman and on Broadway. And Butler appeared in the Goodman renditions of Jitney and The Piano Lesson. As for Leon, at the Alliance he directed Wilson's Jitney, Seven Guitars, The Piano Lesson and Fences.

With the opening of Gem, the Goodman is the only theatre in the U.S. to have presented all of August Wilson's plays (though many have showcased every Wilson play except Gem).

Wilson's luck in New York has not been good of late. The recent Broadway revival of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom was fraught with internecine tensions, injuries, cast dismissals and conflicts waged in the press. It received tepid reviews and closed on April 6 after a short run. The playwright's previous Broadway production, the new King Hedley II, also had a brief life: 24 previews and 72 regular performances.

Tickets may be purchased at the Goodman Theatre Box Office, 170 N. Dearborn Street, charged by phoning (312) 443-3800 or online at

Greta Oglesby as Aunt Ester and Kenny Leon as Citizen barlow in Gem of the Ocean. Photo by Michael Brosilow
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