One could make a steady career staging the works in August Wilson’s 10-play “Century Cycle” chronicling each decade of the 20th century, and director Ron “OJ” Parsons is doing just that. He’s directed productions of seven of them so far, several more than once.
Gem of the Ocean goes back to the first decade of the century, with events in 1904. This play lays the foundation for many subsequent stories, and several characters are earlier generations of characters in subsequent tales. The African Americans who populate Gem are struggling to define a new identity in the post-slavery era of the early-20th century. Like many others, Citizen Barlow has ventured north to seek his fortune. A visit to Aunt Ester, the Hill District’s matriarch, on the eve of her 287th birthday, leads him to a mystic vision of the “City of Bones” beneath the Atlantic where the bodies and souls of many captured people remained after the crossing from Africa to Africa centuries earlier.
Discussing Gem, Parsons says, “This play is about the exploration of a people and a discovery of spirit and soul. Everybody in the play is discovering something about themselves.”
Gem of the Ocean plays at the Ensemble Theatre 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb. 22.