Gem of the Ocean

Aunt Esther is 284 years old — no, that’s not a typo, 284 years. Impossible? Not in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, in which the wizened old woman is not only a “soul cleanser” but also the keeper of knowledge. Set in 1904, Gem focuses on Esther, an ex-slave whose home in the Hill section of Pittsburgh has become a refuge for former slaves and dislocated African-Americans who have migrated north in search of work and a better life. Among the characters is Caesar, a black sheriff who’s a patsy for the white men who control the district. When a black man is accused of stealing a bucket of nails from a local mill, he kills himself rather than face punishment for a crime he didn’t commit. Soon the black workers at the mill are rioting and on strike. Caesar tries to keep things under control, but it’s Aunt Esther who has the answers.

Wilson died in 2005, but he left behind one of the greatest bodies of work written by any American playwright. Smart theater lovers will take advantage of this opportunity to see one of his last plays. 3 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays. Through February 24. The Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main. For information, call 713–520–0055 or visit $18 to $35.
Saturdays, 2 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.; Thursdays, 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m. Starts: Jan. 26. Continues through Feb. 24, 2008

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Lee Williams