The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess Now Excites Me

I take back everything bad I said about the insane comments the cast and creative team is making about this show. It's become clear that the entire thing is a put one. Christopher Guest is likely filming every step of this production without his usual band of improvers to turn into the greatest "putting on a show" comedy of all time. How else do you explain lead actress Audra McDonald comparing Porgy and Bess to a squid?

People have been trying to put it in a box for all these years, I don't mean put it away, but shove it into you know: It's an opera, it's a musical, it's — I think, it just continues to defy. It's this sort of big large squid that just plopping out (gesturing madly) that's like NO! I'm all of these things.

If we re-contextualize all these strange things that McDonald, Diane Paulus, and everyone else has been saying, it suddenly becomes clear that they're in on some kind of bizarre joke. Or else the 18th bookwriter for Wonderland decided "How is a raven like a writing desk?" was a bit too straight forward and fed Audra the line about an unboxable squid.

Here's another good one. Did you know that if you don't support this adaptation of Porgy and Bess that's being labeled as the real thing, you obviously support animal cruelty and art being a static and immovable object?

"The purists have the right if that's how they want to spend their energy. It's such a great opera and if they want to see it in its purist state, if they want to see Shakespeare done in the Globe, with bear-baiting and people who haven't bathed recently and all men on stage, I'm sure there are places that will provide that opportunity for them. Great! No sweat!

That one came from new book writer/adapter Susan-Lori Parks. I see she's as big a fan of The Winter's Tale as I am. I doubt her assumption, however, that you can find a living theater troupe that will bear bait just to kill off the man who is given the job of abandoning the baby on the shores of Bohemia.

Perhaps funniest of all is how Susan-Lori Parks can say this about her approach to the show,

I'm not a politically correct writer. I didn't approach it like, 'it's a racist show so I have to make it politically correct.' Not at all! It's a show with some dramatic holes, some missteps dramatically. I have to make it right. I have to flesh out the characters. All those things. I didn't go through it to sanitize the language at all

and then call out the show for being unbelievable due to racial stereotypes.

It's a what I call a Mammy moment, which is effective if the characters adhere to certain stereotypes. The Mammy, a large woman with the hand on the hip doing that Aunt Jemima type kind of thing. And then the cowering well-dressed dandy. 'Oooh, I'm scared.' I don't know any street character like Sportin' Life who would take this kind of crap from anybody. And in real life, in reality, if someone were to talk to him like that they'd be dead the next day

So we're fleshing out all the characters and so instead of a Mammy moment, I made a Mamma moment or a mommy moment in which I said, 'well, how could this moment work in the real world? What would Mariah have on Sportin Life that would really make him scared?' I thought, oh she knows his mother. And any tough guy we know, all tough guys, if you start saying hey I know your mother and I'm going to tell on you. Then they're like, 'oh come on don't be telling my mama what I'm up to.'

There's nothing wrong with wanting to add backstory for the benefit of the actors. It's the hubris around this production that is laughable. "We're not saying Porgy and Bess is the worst show ever. We just hate every single detail that exists in the book and score. It's ok because the estates said we can do whatever we want with the show and then pretend its the real version."

You have to laugh through life to keep from crying, right?

Here's the thing. If you take on a classic, you're going to be under a very critical eye. If you start saying that you've improved on a classic, you're going to be criticized. It is not an enviable position to be in. I respect the creative team of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess for trying to do a production of this show they are proud of. I just wish that they didn't come across so strong and "we're right and you're wrong so shut up" at first.

Thoughts? Love to hear them. Comment below.

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