Party Play: "Gem of the Ocean"

Beth Fhaner
 | Oct 24, 2017
Katherine and Kelsey

Carolina and John Prichard with Director Kent Gash and SCR Managing Director Paula Tomei at the First Night of Gem of the Ocean.

From the opening scene, August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean captured the First Night audience’s attention as they were transported to 1904 Pittsburgh. Wilson’s compelling spiritual drama—and the first installment in his epic American Century Cycle—held the theatregoers spellbound through powerful dialogue and extraordinary performances.

The First Night audience’s reaction to Gem of the Ocean was one of enthusiastic applause and an immediate standing ovation. It was obvious that Wilson’s masterful work resonated with
theat​regoers and they were deeply moved by the performances of the talented cast: Shinelle Azoroh, Preston Butler III, L. Scott Caldwell, Cleavant Derricks, Hal Landon, Matt Orduña and Arnell Powell.

First Night attendees Talya Nevo-Hacohen and Bill Schenker found Gem of the Ocean to be captivating and thought-provoking. As Nevo-Hacohen explains, “August Wilson’s intense drama, set 50 years after the abolition of slavery, turned upside down my idea of the Civil War and integration. The horror of the ‘Middle Passage’ of slave boats was analogous to the danger of the place that freed slaves and their descendants were finding in American society.” 

Additionally, Chimo and Diane Arnold found the play to be powerful and relevant to today’s climate. “The acting and set design were superb, and L. Scott Caldwell’s performance as Aunt Ester is alone worth the price of admission,” note​s ​Chimo. “Diane and I learned so much from the ​program notes, which also gave us a better appreciation of the African-American experience on our shores. The SCR First Night experience is always wonderful, capped by the cast party—fun, convivial and, as always, an opportunity to chat with members of the cast and express to them how we marvel at their talent in making their drama so real, vivid and unforgettable,” he add​s.

Prior to the performance and cast party, a pre-show All-Circle dinner party was held at the Center Club and attended by 60 guests. Director Kent Gash was in attendance and Associate Literary Director Andy Knight led a thoughtful Q & A with him regarding the play. Gash was charming and insightful in his remarks about Wilson and this production in particular.

Guests who attended the cast party, co-sponsored by the Center Club, were welcomed to the elegant venue with a beautiful fall tableau of red and purple flowers in wooden containers, along with lanterns scattered throughout the event space.

Among the menu highlights was a sweet and savory biscuit bar, which was a big hit with partygoers. The sweet side of the bar featured warm, mini buttermilk biscuits with sweet cream butter, honey, whipped cream and cinnamon sugar—a delicious combination! As for the biscuit bar’s savory side, cheddar-cheese biscuits with country-style gravy, sausage, Applewood bacon crumbles and chopped green onions were equally as scrumptious.

The festive crowd also enjoyed an array of delectable appetizers including butternut squash soup shooters, as well as BBQ chicken and Margherita flatbreads. Tempting treats such as assorted mini​-desserts and macaroons provided a sweet finish to the celebratory soiree.

The evening’s signature cocktail was “Pittsburgh Punch”—a fitting libation comprised of whiskey, ginger ale and a splash of cranberry juice.

First Night guests greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to meet and mingle with the cast members in the Center Club’s chic setting. All the while, lively conversation and laughter continued to swirl around Gem of the Ocean, Wilson’s mystical story of freedom, justice and redemption.

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