Here’s how Pasadena’s A Noise Within Theater pitches its latest production:
Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson unfolds the African American legacy in the first chronological episode of his celebrated “American Century Cycle,” a soaring, mystical tale of a man desperate for redemption in 1904 Pittsburgh.
Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old “soul cleanser,” sends him on a spiritual journey that dissects the nature of freedom amid oppression and spurs him to take up the mantle of justice.
“Two hundred and eighty-five?” was my first thought upon reading the description of “Gem of the Ocean.” “This could go either way.”
But as director Gregg T. Daniel observes, “Memory insists that we go back and claim the past.” And in fact, Veralyn Jones pulls off the part beautifully. With long, white braids, a floor-length patchwork style skirt and a neat weskit, she manages to be both the timeless repository of ancient wisdom and thoroughly of her place and era.
Her feet ache, as they would, but she’s put-together, practical, and while not suffering fools gladly, compassionate. She’s not woo-woo, she doesn’t have a schtick, she doesn’t make lame jokes and stage-wink about her age and her heaping powers. She’s not a stereotype, in other words.
Consequently, you believe her character, the linchpin of the play, and you believe her.