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‘Gem of the Ocean’ is a sensitive, yet bold look at race, prejudice and privilege

April 18, 2018, Melissa Germain

CARBONDALE, IL –  In a timely and appropriate look at current events, Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Theatre is proud to present “Gem of the Ocean,” by August Wilson.

“August Wilson … had a way of reaching deep into the soul of each one of his characters as he shared their journeys with readers,” said Jeffery McGoy, who plays Caesar in the production. “The magic of stage brings these writings to life, and with a play like ‘Gem of the Ocean,’ you feel the depths of each character that also relates to present day times.”

In this production, a 285-year-old former slave and “soul healer” guides a young man on a soaring and lyrical journey toward redemption and spiritual awakening.

Director Segun Ojewuyi describes the production as a “sensitive treatment of the difficult subjects of race, discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, privilege — all those things that can become confrontational.

“He (August Wilson) treats them with this sensitive and very tender, careful and, at the same time, bold approach”

A spiritual journey through abolition, civil rights and Black Lives Matter

Set in 1904, August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” takes place in the home of Aunt Ester, who is a 285-year-old spiritual healer. When Citizen Barlow comes to her Pittsburgh’s Hill District home seeking asylum, she sends him a spiritual journey to find a city in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

“Aunt Ester carries the memory of all Africans, the memory of the ancestors,” Wilson explained to American Theater Magazine in 2003. “She embodies the wisdom and traditions of all those Africans, starting with the first one.”

“Gem of the Ocean” is the ninth work in Wilson’s ten-play cycle that has recorded the American Black experience and helped to define generations. It carries the audience through the continuing story and struggle through the abolition, civil rights and now the Black Lives Matter movements.

Father Joseph A. Brown and Jeffery McGoy bring gravitas to the production

This production has the privilege of featuring two guest artists, Father Joseph A. Brown and McGoy.

Father Brown plays Solly Two Kings: a former slave who later became a runner for the Underground Railroad and a scout for the Union Army.

Father Brown is Professor of Africana Studies, teaches courses in Black Critical Studies and helped establish the Africana Theater Lab. He was last seen as Dr. W. E. B. Dubois on the McLeod stage.

McGoy, who plays Caesar: a policeman, baker, and land owner, will be making his sixth appearance on the McLeod stage. He is an assistant dean of students at SIU and a motivational speaker, in addition to acting.

Show runs April 26-29 in the McLeod Theater

“Gem of the Ocean” is directed by Segun Ojewuyi as part of the 2017-2018 season.

Show times are 7:30 p.m. April 26-28 and 2 p.m. April 29 at The McLeod Theatre. There will be a pre-show lecture at 1:30 p.m. on April 28 in the Christian H. Moe Laboratory Theater.

Tickets are available by phone, online, in person or by mail. Some fees apply:

  • By phone at 877-SALUKIS (877-725-8547)
  • Online at events.siu.edu.
  • In person at SIU Arena or McLeod Theater box office, Mon.-Fri., noon-4:30 p.m. when the University is in session.
  • By mail to: SIU Ticket Office, Lingle Hall - Mail Code 6620, 1490 Douglas Drive, Carbondale, IL, 62901