Play being buffed til the premiere

August Wilson‘s nine-play cycle now starts with a gem of a prequel director Marion McClinton pronounced one of the playwright’s best during Thursday night’s party following its world preem at the Mark Taper Forum.

Wilson kept polishing 1904-set “Gem of the Ocean” right up to opening night, keeping rehearsals exciting for the cast, according to Peter Francis James.

“At rehearsals, August would listen and then he would go away,” James said. “The next day there’d be a new page 28,” he added.

“I’ve worked on the script a lot since I’ve been here in L.A.,” Wilson agreed.

Phylicia Rashad honed her own portrayal of 285-year-old Aunt Ester, a former slave, taking on the look of a timeless woman down to the rhythm of her arthritis-impaired gait.

“Phylicia wasn’t afraid to go anywhere,” McClinton said.

Adding sparkle to the Music Center Plaza party were Angela Bassett, Rashad’s sis Debbie Allen, Roscoe Lee Browne, Don Cheadle and Michael T. Weiss.

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