Southern Miss Theatre’s production of “Gem of the Ocean” was a profound and engaging experience that included powerful acting and effective design.
The show, which was Southern Miss Theatre’s first production for the 2019-2020 season, was performed on Oct. 17, 18, 19 and 20 in the Gilbert F. Hartwig Theatre and directed by Amanda Washington. The play was written by August Wilson as part of his 10 play Pittsburgh Cycle which focuses on the African American experience throughout the 20th century. “Gem of the Ocean” focuses on the household of Aunt Ester Tyler and her guidance of a man named Citizen Barlow on a spiritual journey.
The set design for the play was well-done and benefited the play in several ways. The design was true to the time period during which the play was set and helped build a sense of realism. The build of the set allowed the different ways in which actors entered and exited the stage to flow seamlessly and not be a cause for distraction. It, along with the lighting, gave off an intimate atmosphere that made audience members feel as though they are actually in Aunt Esther’s home.
Along with contributing to the intimate feeling of the set, the lighting played a large role in conveying different tones and plot points.
The biggest example of this would be the intense ending of Act 1, with the local mill burning down. The darkness of the stage contrasted with the orange light in the background gave off a sense of the calamity that was to come. Another great use of the lighting was to create the illusion of stars, which was used several times throughout the play.
The sound and music of “Gem of the Ocean” played an integral role in setting the mood and ambiance of the story. The music that played before the play began and between scenes fit perfectly with the time period of the story and helped set the stage for what was to come.
The few instances of singing in the play were impactful, mostly because of the situations during which they occur. It helped emphasize the solemn and important meanings of scenes in a beautiful way, especially during the final scene.
Another integral part of the play was the costuming. The design of all the costumes fit impeccably with the setting and time period without coming across as over-the-top. The costume changes for different characters do a good job of signifying changes in the character and plot.
Although these features of the play supported the overall greatness, the performances of the actors are what stand out the most and made it worth watching. The acting proved that a show with few characters could hold its own and fulfill any necessary task.
All of the actors seemed to truly embody their characters and bring them to life and feel like well-written, real people. The emotion and feeling the actors brought to the characters helped emphasize the themes of the story.
The acting from Marissa C. Gilliam and Sheldon Chinedu Mba, who played Aunt Ester and Citizen Barlow, was particularly impressive, especially during the second act. Robinson J. Cyprian’s performance as Solly Two Kings was also strong as he effortlessly provided moments of often needed comedic relief.
The best performance of the entire play was during the scene of Citizen Barlow’s journey to the Gem of the Ocean and the City of Bones. All of the different elements of the play come together to portray this intense moment and Mba’s performance stands out amongst it all.
Overall, Southern Miss Theatre’s production of “Gem of the Ocean” puts great effort into every part of this play to create a stunning show.