Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Gem of the Ocean
It is a play I saw last Friday. Written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson, the play is set in the year 1904, in Pittsburgh. The play is very engaging, almost a fairy tale. The protagonists are Afro-Americans primarily. Naturally it touches on topics of racism and the disillusionment of Afro-Americans after the abolition of slavery. The situation in which we find the characters is nothing short of extraordinary. Factory workers have gone on strike because of low wages. A black man drowns himself in the river in front of a crowd of people to show that he hasn’t stolen a bucket of nails. There is news that afro-americans in Alabama are undergoing extreme persecution and have no way out.
In the middle of all these extraordinary events is a small set of Afro-americans that have seen so much in life that nothing seems to surprise them anymore. Hardship is so much a part of their existence. Misfortune follows them at every step. And it is this that brings them together – a strong feeling that they have nothing but themselves to depend on.
A young man from Alabama finds his way to Pittsburgh and is sucked into the city’s vicious grip. At work his employers cheat him and pay him less, and at home his landlord charges him much more than market rate so he just can’t make ends meet. But all that is fine, until he does something wrong (steals a bucket of nails and unknowingly causes the death of another). His guilt consumes him and he needs his soul washed. This is the beginning of the story. Through a series of events that changes everybody’s life, the young man undergoes a metamorphosis. He finds a cause to live for. He finds himself.
The play is so natural and real. It is easy to put oneself in the shoes of anyone of the characters. It is easy to understand their helplessness, to admire their courage and their perseverance that makes them take every setback in their stride and strive on towards true emancipation and equality. More touching to me is the fact that I could not point fingers at anyone. Everyone is justified in his/her actions. Even the person that brings on suffering to this group of afro-americans is black himself. And he too is merely obeying the law. His eccentricity and his arrogance are forgivable if you take into account his background and ideals in life. He is after all a self-made man and a man who knows his job and does it well. Everybody is so caught in a web. From an angle it seems society is doing all right and yet from another it seems everything is disintegrating into something uncontrollable. The plots and sub plots merely play a side role. The essence of the play is something that hasn’t even been said explicitly. I found it brilliant.
Photos - Poster of Gem of the Ocean, Denver Center for Performing Arts, Larimer Square, 16th Street