August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape: The first-ever exhibition dedicated to the life and works of August Wilson is now open! Learn More

Gem of the Ocean

Broadway Debut
December 6, 2004
Kerr Theatre

In 1904, the remembrance and reckonings of former slaves set the stage for many of the themes that permeate August Wilson’s American Century Cycle.

Centered on its strong and allegorical protagonist, Aunt Ester, Gem of the Ocean explores the symbolic and spiritual connection between a turn-of-the-century Black community and its alive and stirring memory of an enslaved past. Set four decades after the Civil War, Wilson uses powerful metaphor to confront essential questions: what is freedom and what is its price?  Ethereal and dark, Gem of the Ocean reminds audiences what Wilson so bluntly stated to the New York Times in 1987: “Black America wants to forget slavery—the stigma, the shame. That’s the wrong move. If you can’t be who you are, who can you be?”

Did you Know?

Aunt Ester’s address, 1839 Wylie Avenue, pays homage to both Pittsburgh’s Hill District real-life Wylie Avenue, as well as the year 1839: the date of the famous Amistad slave ship revolt (Glasco and Rawson, August Wilson: Pittsburgh Places in His Life and Plays).

In 2005, Gem of the Ocean garnered five Tony nominations, including one for Phylicia Rashad who played the role of Aunt Ester.


In His Own Words

That’s sixty-two notches. That’s sixty-two people I carried to freedom. I was looking to make it sixty-three when Abraham Lincoln come along and changed all that. Him and General Grant. I never did join the Union Army, but I showed them where to go. I know all the routes. Me and Eli worked together many a time.” Solly, Act 2, Scene 2

August Wilson:
The Writer's Landscape

August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape, the first-ever exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, will open in spring 2022. The permanent exhibition will explore the people and places of Pittsburgh, where Wilson was born and raised, and which had a profound impact on shaping his worldview.

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