Directed by Lou Bellamy, the August Wilson play will officially open on the Guthrie's McGuire Proscenium Stage April 25 and run through May 18. The cast will feature James Craven (Solly Two Kings), Abdul Salaam El Razzac (Eli), Terry Hempleman (Rutherford Selig), Marvette Knight (Aunt Ester), Cedric Mays (Citizen Barlow), T. Mychael Rambo (Caesar) and Austene Van (Black Mary).
In a statement Penumbra artistic director Lou Bellamy said, "A founding company member of Penumbra, Wilson sat in countless rehearsals watching his friends and fellow artists stage plays that explored the depth and breadth of the African American experience. He was inspired to write for the actors whom he called his friends. The characters he created are mighty, the stories epic in scope. Through his plays we can experience, ponder and reckon with our unique American history. The partnering of the Guthrie and Penumbra allows our particular experiences and areas of expertise to join forces, offering the community a unique opportunity to experience Wilson's work at its best."
Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling added, "When we first partnered with Lou and Penumbra on Fences in 1997, we learned that such collaboration could be a successful one. We're thrilled that the Guthrie can serve as a community resource for other arts organizations, and this type of partnership will serve to strengthen both the Guthrie and Penumbra."
Gem of the Ocean, part of Wilson's ten-play cycle chronicling a different decade in 20th century African-American history, is set in 1904. The play, according to press notes, is described as such: "Aunt Esther (Marvette Knight), the drama's 287-year-old fiery matriarch, welcomes into her Hill District home Solly Two Kings (James Craven), who was born into slavery and scouted for the Union Army, and Citizen Barlow (Cedric Mays), a young man from Alabama searching for a new life. Bewildered by the collapse of the old slave regime, the first generation of black Americans recently freed from slavery are unprepared for the backlash against their newly acquired freedom by whites. Many venture north and find themselves at Aunt Ester’s door, seeking solace, advice, or a place to heal."
The artistic team will also include Mathew J. LeFebvre (set designer and costume designer), Michelle Habeck (lighting designer), Malo Adams (sound designer), Stephanie Lein Walseth (dramaturg), Mary K. Winchell (stage manager) and Elizabeth MacNally (assistant stage manager). The Guthrie is located at 818 South 2nd Street (at Chicago Avenue), in downtown Minneapolis. Tickets, priced $24-$69, are available by calling (612) 377-2224 or by visiting www.guthrietheater.org.