August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” is a vast, three-hour drama with larger-than-life African American characters. In the foreground are factory workers, who’ve come to urban Pittsburgh from the rural south, seeking jobs. They’re trying to organize what will become a union, but their rallies keep getting busted by the boss.
The play also examines earlier times through the character of Aunt Ester, a respected, white-haired matriarch and healer. Troubled people seek her out because she knows how to wash souls. And oh yes, Aunt Ester is 285-years-old, old enough to recall slavery.
(excerpt from play)
At one point, she opens a drawer and pulls out her tattered bill of sale, written when she was purchased at auction – and I’ve never seen a piece of paper look so dangerous. When she talks about freedom, a very important topic in this drama, you want to pay attention. Aunt Ester, played by Sacramento actress Lisa Lacy, is creaky and slow – she sometimes sleeps for four days straight. But whenever she comes onstage, you know she’s special – the kind of supremely wise, mysterious character that can really only exist in a play.