This summer, theatre fans in Southern California have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson with productions at two of the region's acclaimed theatres – Rubicon Theatre Company and Pasadena Playhouse. Rubicon Theatre presents the company's first Wilson with Gem of the Ocean, opening this Thursday, May 24 and continuing through June 10. South Coast Repertory's production of Jitney arrives at Pasadena Playhouse June 21, continuing through July 15, meaning that theatre patrons in Southern California can see two August Wilson plays within two months.
The first play chronologically in Wilson's 10-part series "The Pittsburgh Cycle," Gem of the Ocean is a powerful, mystical play set in 1904 in Pittsburgh's Hill District. At a local mill, a black man is accused of stealing a bucket of nails. But rather than confess to a crime he didn't commit, he jumps in the river and becomes a martyr to his co-workers. Riots break out and the workers begin to strike. Against this turbulent backdrop, another young man named Citizen Barlow arrives at the home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old healer who is the keeper of tradition and history for her people. She sends Citizen on a spiritual journey aboard the slave ship Gem of the Ocean-where he must learn about his ancestors and then face the truth about himself.
The seventh play in "The Pittsburgh Cycle," Jitney takes place in the Hill District in 1977, during a time when legitimate cabs would not travel to the neighborhood. Out of these circumstances, unlicensed gypsy cabs – jitneys – emerge to drive the locals around town. The story unfolds in Becker's storefront jitney station where a motley crew shares stories and meddle in each other's lives. But urban renewal now threatens to tear down the station and Becker's son returns home after a 20-year stint in prison. Old cronies drop in, fights break out and lovers make up – and just as the audience gets to know them, Wilson asks them to look again.
Gem of the Ocean runs at Rubicon Theatre Company from May 16 - June 10, 2012. Tickets may be purchased in person through the Rubicon Theatre Company box office, located at 1006 E. Main Street (Laurel entrance) in Ventura's Downtown Cultural District. To order by phone, call (805) 667-2900. Twenty-four-hour-a-day ticketing is also available online at www.rubicontheatre.org, thanks to a grant from the Irvine Foundation's Regional Arts Initiative.
Jitney runs at Pasadena Playhouse from June 21 – July 15, 2012. Tickets may be purchased in person at 39 S. El Molino Avenue in Pasadena, over the phone at (626) 356-7529 or online at www.pasadenaplayhouse.org.