Honoring Those Who Came Before

Tufts drama professor Monica Ndounou brings August Wilson’s play “Gem of the Ocean” to Balch Arena Theater
Watch a slideshow from a dress rehearsal of “Gem of the Ocean.” Photos: Alonso Nichols
November 1, 2016

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When Monica Ndounou first came across the work of playwright August Wilson, she was moved. “I recognized the language, characters and stories,” she says.  

She later performed in some of Wilson’s plays, “which enabled me to explore the craft of acting with work that appreciates and celebrates my culture,” she says.

Ndounou, an associate professor of drama in the School of Arts and Sciences, went on to direct Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, “because I was drawn to the metaphysical aspects of the story,” and last spring taught the course Black Theatre Workshop: The August Wilson Experience.

Now she is staging a production of his Gem of the Ocean, one of 10 Wilson plays that focus on African-American life throughout the 20th century and are set mostly on Pittsburgh’s Hill district.

Gem of the Ocean has so much to offer in terms of performance as well as design,” Ndounou says. “Putting this larger project together has enabled me to combine my teaching and artistic work in a way that sheds light on matters of social justice in the past and present.”

It is an experience that everyone involved in the production has learned from. “The students have been genuinely moved by Wilson’s work and frequently mention the life lessons embedded in the play,” she says.

Set in 1904, the play brings home Wilson’s message that “salvation comes only to those who pay homage to the sacrifices of their ancestors and to those who are honest enough to admit they could have done nothing whatsoever all by themselves,” Chris Jones wrote in a Chicago Tribune review last year.

Gem of the Ocean will be performed at Balch Arena Nov. 3-5 at 8 p.m. For more information, go to the Tufts Drama box office website.

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