August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean Opens at Syracuse Stage

(Syracuse, NY) Syracuse Stage will present August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean as the fourth play of its 34th season. Lyric, poetic and infused with deep spiritualism, Gem of the Ocean, which marks the chronological beginning of Wilson’s towering 10-play cycle depicting the lives of African Americans in the 20th century, runs February 21 through March 11. Directed by Timothy Douglas, Gem of the Ocean is a co-production with Indiana Repertory Theatre of Indianapolis and Geva Theatre in Rochester, NY. At Syracuse Stage, Gem of the Ocean is sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, National Grid, Residence Inn by Marriott and Syracuse Stage’s Board of Trustees.

Set in Pittsburgh in 1904, and steeped in African-American history, culture and faith, Gem of the Ocean tells the tale of Citizen Barlow, a young man who arrives in Pittsburgh as part of the wave of freed slaves and their children migrating from South to North following the Civil War. While working at the local mill, Citizen steals a bucket of nails. Another man is accused of the theft and chooses suicide rather than face arrest and a life in which he would be unjustly identified as a thief. To unburden himself of the guilt he feels for the accused man’s death, Citizen seeks out the real and yet somehow mythic Aunt Ester, aged 285 years, whose powers to heal souls is legendary.

Distinctive lyricism is a hallmark of Wilson’s plays. His language is both colloquial and poetic. “Wilson texts have a distinctive rhythm, influenced by the blues,” Douglas has said. “He writes and the characters speak as people did in the Hill District of Pittsburgh when he was coming up.”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences was the first of Wilson’s plays to be produced by Syracuse Stage; it broke box office records. In 1996, Syracuse Stage produced The Piano Lesson, the play for which Wilson received his second Pulitzer Prize. “Like Arthur Miller, like Tennessee Williams, August Wilson is a playwright whose work cannot be ignored,” Producing Director James A. Clark said. “We’re thrilled to have Timothy Douglas back with us to put his very special touch on this very wonderful play.” In addition to Wilson’s Jitney (2002), Douglas has previously staged Blues for an Alabama Sky, A Lesson Before Dying, The Crucible and Intimate Apparel for Syracuse Stage.

The role of Citizen Barlow will be played by Chris Chalk, making his Syracuse Stage debut. Chalk’s recent theatre credits include the world premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s Defiance at the Manhattan Theatre Club and Children of Herakles, directed by Peter Sellars. Chalk will be seen the upcoming film Then She Found Me with Helen Hunt.

Aunt Ester will be played by Lizan Mitchell, who has previously appeared at Syracuse Stage in A Lesson Before Dying and Intimate Apparel, both directed by Douglas. A veteran of Broadway, Off-Broadway, and regional theatre, her roles include Medea, Sister Margaret in Amen Corner, Rose in Fences, and Mrs. Chancey and Dorothy Dandridge in Love Scrawls. She has won the Helen Hayes Award, Black Theatre Award, and Audelco Award for Best Actress, and has been nominated for Drama Desk and Jefferson Awards.

David Alan Anderson makes his Syracuse Stage debut in the role of Caesar Wilkes. Anderson’s Indiana Repertory Theatre credits include Julius Caesar, Crumbs From The Table Of Joy, Fences, and A Christmas Carol. As a director Anderson has staged Wilson’s Two Trains Running at the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis.

Tracy Griswold makes his first appearance at Syracuse Stage in the role of Selig. Griswold has appeared on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning All My Sons and Off-Broadway in various productions with the Negro Ensemble Company and the BAM Theatre Company. He has toured North America in The Graduate and A Soldier’s Play.

Black Mary will be played by Rachel Leslie, who makes her third appearance at Syracuse Stage, having been seen in The Crucible and Intimate Apparel, both directed by Douglas. Her theatre credits include Blues for an Alabama Sky, A Lesson Before Dying, and The Trojan Women, among others. Leslie earned an M.F.A. from Temple University.

Playing the role of Solly Two Kings is Ernest Perry, Jr., who will be making his Syracuse Stage debut. A veteran of international and regional theatre, Perry has also appeared in films such as Liar Liar, Dunston Checks In, and The Color of Money. He has also been on television series, including shows such as ER, Star Trek: Deep Space 9, Early Edition, and Lady Blue, among others. Perry is also the spokesman for Wrigley’s Big Red Gum.

Cedric Turner makes his Syracuse Stage debut as the role of Eli. He has performed nationally in productions such West Memphis Mojo, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and The Meeting, as well as at a host of theatres nationwide. Turner has appeared in the film The Cusp, as well as on television in shows such as Another World, Loving, Law & Order, and The Sopranos. Turner is the winner
of the New Professional Theatre’s 2001 Writers Festival for his play Clockwatcher’s Rumor.

Scenic Designer Tony Cisek is well known to Syracuse Stage audience, having designed for this season’s A Christmas Carol, The Crucible and A Lesson Before Dying. His other design work has been in seen in Intimate Apparel, Anna in the Tropics, and A Raisin in the Sun, at theatres around the country. A four-time recipient of the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Set Design, Cisek holds an M.F.A. in design from New York University.

No stranger to Syracuse Stage, costume designer Junghyun Georgia Lee has created costumes for Lost in Yonkers and Crimes of the Heart; she is also fashioning costumes for The Unexpected Guest, Stage’s final show of the season. She has also designed such productions as The Water’s Edge, Max and Ruby, and Julius Caesar, among numerous others. Lee earned her M.F.A. at the Yale School of Drama.

Peter Maradudin, lighting designer, has done work for more than 300 productions nationwide. On Broadway, his work has been seen in August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Kentucky Cycle. Maradudin is a principal designer with Firstcircle, a lighting design consultancy for architecture and themed environments based in Southern California.

Composer Michael Keck’s music has accompanied productions both nationally and internationally, and. Temple University Press and Alta Mira Press have published excerpts from Keck’s solo performance piece Voices in the Rain. Keck was a co-winner of the 2000 AATE Distinguished Play Award, and received the 2002 Spencer Cherashore Award for New York actors. He was recently nominated for a Barrymore Award for It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues.

Sound designer Todd Mack Reischman’s scores have been used in numerous productions all over the country and abroad. Much of his work has been done at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, where he designed more than twenty productions. As owner and operator of LostSound, Reischman develops and produces his own original music and literary works.

Wilson is the author of Fences, Gem of the Ocean, Jitney, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, King Hedley II, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Radio Golf, Seven Guitars and Two Trains Running. His plays have been produced at regional theatres across the country and throughout the world, as well as on Broadway. Mr. Wilson’s work has garnered many awards including the Pulitzer Prize (for Fences and The Piano Lesson), a Tony Award, Great Britain’s Olivier Award, seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, and a Grammy Award for the cast recording of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. He has received many fellowships and awards, including Rockfeller and Guggenheim fellowships in playwriting, and a 1999 National Humanities Medal from the President of the United States. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. He died on October 2, 2005, of liver cancer. He was 60 years old.

Gem of the Ocean runs February 21 through March 11. Tickets for Gem of the Ocean range in price from $22 to $45 and are available now by calling the Syracuse Stage Box Office at (315)443-3275 or visiting the website:

Syracuse Stage 2006-2007 Season

August Wilson’s
Gem of the Ocean
Directed by Timothy Douglas
February 21 – March 11

Death of a Salesman
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Tim Ocell
April 4 – May 6

The Unexpected Guest
By Agatha Christie
Directed by Robert Moss
May 16 – June 10