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WBGO: WBGO: Two River Theater presents August Wilson's powerful 'Gem of the Ocean'

Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey is presenting one of August Wilson‘s most powerful plays Gem of the Ocean through June 30.

Two of the stars of the show, Brandon J. Dirden (Caesar Wilks) and Crystal A. Dickinson (Black Mary) joined WBGO News Director Doug Doyle to talk about their roles in the production.

Dirden and Dickinson are not only married to each other, but share a common passion for the work of legendary Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson. They are also favorites of Two River Theater audiences over the years which have included many roles in August Wilson plays performed there.

Brandon J. Dirden, who also played the role of “Booster” in August Wilson’s Jitney on Broadway, has been impacted by the playwright’s work since he was a young man.

“The one thing I’ve learned is to never underestimate August Wilson and how uncompromising he is with the exploration of humanity and the many layers of the onion there are to society, but particulary how Black Americans have weathered every storm triumphantly through the years and through his Century Cycle that he’s taken us through the 20th century.”

The play is set in 1904 at 1839 Wylie Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Aunt Ester, the drama’s 285-year-old fiery matriarch, welcomes into her home Solly Two Kings, who was born into slavery and scouted for the Union Army and Citizen Barlow, a young man from Alabama searching for a new life and in search of redemption. Aunt Ester is not too old to practice healing; she guides Barlow on a soaring, lyrical journey of spiritual awakening to the City of Bones.

Aunt Ester’s housekeeper “Black Mary” is a role that Crystal A. Dickson portrays with great pride.

“I think Black Mary has come to the house kind of for the same reasons. We find her at a point in her life she’s looking to make a change in her life but she’s not sure what that means exactly. Aunt Ester helps her through that. I think the play is about legacy, freedom and what that means for us as citizens and how we treat one another. It’s an epic play. It’s a magical play.”

The cast includes: Stephanie Berry (Broadway: Drowning Crow, Frankenstein) as Aunt Ester, Brian D. Coats (August Wilson’s Jitney, Seven Guitars ) as Eli, Crystal A. Dickinson(Broadway: Clybourne Park, You Can’t Take It With You) as Black Mary, Brandon J. Dirden (Broadway: Skeleton Crew, Take Me Out and August Wilson’s Jitney) as Caesar Wilks, Bill Irwin (Tony Award Winner for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Fool Moon, On Beckett) as Rutherford Selig, Stephen Tyrone Williams (Lucky Guy, Jitney) as Citizen Barlow and James A. Williams (August Wilson’s Radio Golf and Jitney) as Solly Two Kings.

Dickinson calls the cast “The Dream Team.”

“That’s what it feels like going to work them everyday. They’re consummate artists. It’s been a pleasure watching these particular artists work their craft. I wake up pinching myself everyday.”

Dirden compares the cast to a star-studded jazz performance on stage.

“If you were to go to The Blue Note or Village Vanguard and just happen to be sitting in on a night with Max Roach and Cannonball Adderley, it’s the best of the best.”

Two River’s production of Gem of the Ocean is directed by Delicia Turner Sonnenberg.

Dirden stresses even though it’s the first time he and his wife Crystal have worked with Delicia, they have great respect for her talents.

“What she does so well is she allows the artists and gives them space to do what they do. She has such a keen eye and perspective. She also has a great patience.”

You can SEE Doug Doyle’s entire conversation with Brandon J. Dirden and Crystal A. Dickinson here.

Listen here