Written by Raymond Diaz
Gem of the Ocean is a production brought to you by Krannert Center of the Performing Arts. It chronicles an early period in Pittsburgh where a character by the name of Aunt Ester is said to have ‘supernatural’ abilities in which she is capable of cleansing one’s soul. Throughout the play we are introduced to this idea and follow along as we see her come to understand what the newcomer Citizen Barlow has to offer, and his affect on their community as a whole. All the while reeling us in and using their stage to connect us with their story.
One aspect of the play that really set it as a ‘timepiece’ was the use of the costume design. Each character had different clothing that may have set them at different pedestals in terms of class, and one that really drew into this was the character of Caesar. Caesar has a very early 1900’s look with the full tailored suit accompanied by the bowler hat and pocket watch. It feels almost authoritative as people who were wealthier than most would wear suits, whereas characters such as Citizen Barlow would wear a more everyman attire. This type of attire being slacked pants, a button up and some suspenders that have clearly been through it to show that he is more of a working man.
The use of costume design also set the mood for the characters as we saw through the appearance and personality of Caesar, he was not as likely to trust Citizen Barlow as he compared him to the numerous of thieves that he has dealt with, setting in tension, but reeling in to say that he has been there before so he can’t trust Barlow because of this. This then contributes to the theme as well because we see how each person struggles with the idea of living with this new found freedom and what it means to be free. As we see with Caesar he has found that most people only use your ambition to weigh you down, whereas with Black Mary, she is trying to come to grips with who she is and is evolving into who she will be. Likewise with Citizen Barlow who in the beginning doesn’t know what to do because of his actions, but as he progresses, Solly Two Kings almost mentors him and after his passing he takes up his mantle of helping others.
One character that plays in integral part of the play is Caesar Wilks, and this is due to him serving more of the antagonist role in which we see how his views clash with the rest of the ensemble of the cast. In the first act of the play we see how his views each clash with the characters, but it sets forth in motion much of the character growth that we see. For Citizen Barlow it causes him to constantly scratch that itch of needing his soul cleansed until Aunt Ester finally tells him that he will embark on the ‘journey’ towards cleansing it, and then finally finding something after having Solly Two Kings lead him. With Black Mary she begins to think of whether she is doing what she really desires and we begin to see her character take shape, shown at the end when she stands up for herself and takes matters into her own hand. We see how Caesar berrates each of the characters and cause them to grow and take his views into consideration and find themselves, but he never takes the time to hear everyone else out. Caesar falls down the path of never growing and constantly disappointing those around him because of his ‘old ways’ and serves as an integral member.