“Thirteen years is an unusually short time for a play to be considered a classic, but such is the monumental stature of August Wilson’s Century Cycle that some theater artists have come to believe that it’s time to give all 10 plays the Shakespeare treatment. Meaning, depart from the standard fairly naturalistic productions and soar on the wings of Wilson’s bold images and the grand spoken arias he wrote for his characters.
That’s the bold concept behind the often exciting, sometimes confusing and generally engrossing “Gem of the Ocean” at Marin Theatre Company. Director Daniel Alexander Jones, known for his “theatrical jazz” approach, stages the early 20th century Pittsburgh tale with a decidedly non-realistic set, bursts of the African drums and proto-jazz of music director Kevin Carnes’ emotive score and shifts into stylized movement passages, ranging from modern dance to flat-out vaudeville.
It’s remarkable how well some of his experiment works. “Gem” contains some of Wilson’s richest arias, deepest looks back into an African past and the most extended passage of mythic or mystical ritual.”