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


angel, jr. said...

Sounds like an interesting play.
I would go to see it, based on your summary.

erikku said...

I would as well. True to life in any era, but I guess that is why it is so good.

Denver looks to be a really pretty and clean city. We had a chance to move a little ways north of there once, but unfortunately it was too expensive for our blood.

Spider Girl said...

Your description of this play intrigues me. I have not heard of it before, but I will keep my eye out for it.

I love to go see live theatre. Much more satisfying than watching a movie.

Wriju said...

I think there is more than one theatre company that does this play. Hence stage, actors etc would vary. As far as quality of script is concerned it is top class.

The pictures were taken on a particularly cold day. The streets were virtually empty barring crazy tourists like me! Downtown Denver is very beautiful and there is lots that one can do. The best bit of Denver however is when you go slightly away from the city. There are vast open spaces and beautiful mountains in the distance. The city has a population of around 2.6 million and the whole state of Colorado (which is very big) has a population of only 5.8 million!

Spider girl:
It was an open stage so we were sitting all around it. That made it very interesting! I have seen many Shakespearean plays and they are always a joy no matter who performs. Recently I went for a performance of Medea (by Euripedes) and I have realised Greek plays are truly sublime! I love going to plays :-)

Camphor said...

That is a play I wish I could watch. Is unrequited desire a tragedy?

Greek plays are the ones that are the ones that started off the Tragedies... I imagine you'd love them. (Following your comment)

Wriju said...

A tragedy is about human waste. About a potential never realised. About something that could have been.

Oh yes - there are greek plays that make me wonder how advanced they were in those days. I have sneaked in to a friends class, listened to lectures on Greek Tragedy. The same themes have been rendered by different dramatists. Agamemnon by Aeschylus and Oedipus Rex by Sophocles are my favorites.