Gem of the Ocean to Close on Broadway Feb. 6

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25 Jan 2005

Phylicia Rashad in <I>Gem of the Ocean</I>
Phylicia Rashad in Gem of the Ocean
Photo by Joan Marcus

August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean, which fought hard for its Broadway berth, will relinquish it on Feb. 6, when the production closes at the Walter Kerr Theatre.

It will have played 15 preview and 72 regular performances.

Previews began Nov. 23, 2004, for the Carole Shorenstein Hays production. Opening was Dec. 6. Hays, whose credits include Take Me Out and Caroline, or Change, is the angel producer who saved the once-imperiled Broadway venture.

A possible new resident at the Kerr is John Patrick Shanley's Doubt, which has been looking for a Broadway home since winning great reviews last fall. Hays is also backing that show.

The Gem staging stars last season's Tony Award-winner, Phylicia Rashad (A Raisin in the Sun), as Aunt Ester, Ruben Santiago-Hudson as Caesar and LisaGay Hamilton as Black Mary. The cast also features John Earl Jelks as Citizen Barlow and Raynor Scheine as Rutherford Selig. Kenny Leon directs.



Gem of the Ocean is the ninth play in Wilson's 10-play cycle chronicling the African-American experience through each decade of the 1900s. The story, set in 1904, "begins on the eve of the 285th birthday of Aunt Ester (a recurring character in Wilson’s play cycle). Citizen Barlow, a man who is in spiritual turmoil, arrives at Aunt Ester's house in Pittsburgh's Hill District and is soon set off on a spiritual journey to find the mythic City of Bones, leading him to startling discoveries and setting him on a course of duty and redemption."

Gem of the Ocean, which struggled last fall to replace a shortfall in its $2 million production budget, cancelled its Nov. 4-21 performances.

Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn Theatres, told the New York Times that the deal to save the show happened because his company and Hays received concessions from vendors and creative personnel.

The trouble began late in October, when a major investor pulled out of the venture, taking an unspecified chunk of the $2 million capitalization with them. The unexpected loss of cash sent original lead producer Benjamin Mordecai in search of new investors. Meanwhile, the load-in of the production's set into Broadway's Walter Kerr Theatre was delayed, and a new marquee remained unhung.

Gem ended a Boston run on Oct. 30. It was to have begun previews at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Nov. 4 and open Nov. 11.

Wilson's many other works include Fences, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running, The Piano Lesson, King Hedley II and Jitney.