Gem of the Ocean


Writers: August Wilson


Show Information

Number of Acts
First Produced
Unit/Single Set
Time & Place
pittsburgh, pennsylvania 1904
Cast Size
Ideal for
College/University, Diverse Cast, Ensemble Cast, Professional Theatre, Regional Theatre, Small Cast
Casting Notes
Mostly male cast
Includes elderly, adult, mature adult, young adult characters


August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle (a series of ten plays each set in a different decade) begins with Gem of the Ocean, which takes place in 1904 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (where all of the cycle’s plays are set). Gem of the Ocean unfolds in the home of Aunt Ester, a well known 285-year-old wise woman of the town whose home has become a sanctuary for the troubled and lost. Onto the scene walks Citizen Barlow, a man who has fled from Alabama after indirectly causing another man’s death when he stole a bucket of nails. Citizen has come to Aunt Ester’s because of the tales he has heard of her soul-cleansing powers. We see Aunt Ester help guide him through a spiritual journey towards redemption and self-discovery. When an incident in the town causes the death of Solly, a former slave and conductor of the underground railroad who is dedicated to serving his people, we see Citizen step up and to continue Solly’s legacy, having discovered the importance of history and freedom.

Lead Characters

Gem of the Ocean guide sections