“I’ve got a whole lot of nothing and that’s good enough for me,” sings Porgy.
Sometimes a lot of nothing is more substantial than all the something’s (possessions, accomplishments, relationships) I find myself striving for constantly.
Shonda Rhimes and Private Practice introduced me to Tony and Grammy-winning Audra MacDonald. I find her mesmerizing. When I heard she left the show, I was bummed. However, I was elated to learn that MacDonald joined the revival of Porgy and Bess. I was doubly elated when TDF released $40 tickets. A couple of friends joined me last Saturday (right before the Tony’s) for the operetta.
MacDonald could stand onstage in the dark and I would love her. The same for Norm Lewis.
Back to the show, I’ll confess I hadn’t really read up on the storyline or history before attending. I became a bit apprehensive once I realized the show was set in Charleston, South Carolina. Oh boy, a bunch of “actors” trying to put on a southern, let alone Charleston accent. Believe it or not, southern accents are difficult. They are diverse, regionally specific, and highly reflective of their cultural history.
I’m also not fond of the “Mammy” type characters, either; however, the cast rose to the challenge. I think the trick to the Charleston accent is approaching it like a drunken accent: deliberately in-deliberate.
MacDonald capitalized on her dramatic, drunken entrance with her addictive, abusive partner. David Alan Grier seemed quite at home with his trifling yet not totally traitorous character. Lewis’ husky voice warmed the stage, gently equaling MacDonald’s dazzling presence.
In this storyline, I thought back to the book of Hosea in the Old Testament. Hosea, a man of God, marries a prostitute. He tries to love and care for her, but she continually revisits her former life. He continually seeks to rescue her.
Macdonald’s Bess is the tragically pretty, talented girl who remains just that — pretty and talented without ambition or direction. Bess is taken up by an exciting and abusive lifestyle that leaves her at Porgy’s (a kind, ambitious man whose crippled state leaves him dependent on his community) mercy. Porgy takes Bess in, and they settle into a seemingly easy domesticity. They somewhat formalize their commitment, just in time for Bess to encounter her past. The choice she is forced to make — maintain her integrity or preserve her life — returns her to the mercy seat.
Porgy is Bess’ savior; gracious and dedicated. He forgives her without judgement, he helps her become sober; he continually chooses to trust her when everyone else deems her unworthy of their time. He allows her to be human, he allows himself to love her, he allows himself to be hurt by her; he allows himself to be human, too.
I think I’m still coming to terms with my own humanity.
McDonald and Lewis fill the stage with their chemistry. The supporting cast does as well, so that the story envelopes you. You feel as though you’re at Sunday dinner on the porch, listening to past tales of happiness and heartache.
Bess’ final difficult choice: accepting her own humanity. When it appears that she has lost Porgy due to his valiant rescue of her and the reprehensible actions of the civil authorities, rather than wait it out, she runs. She runs away from all those who doubted her, from the little baby who needs her, and from her sobriety that forces her to see herself as she is.
Porgy finally returns to discover Bess has abandoned him again. He swears he’ll find her, love her, save her — again.
Half of the audience was in tears. We were angry (but somewhat understanding) at Bess for leaving. We couldn’t believe that Porgy still believed in her. We couldn’t understand how a man dealt some pretty rough cards of his own had room enough for someone with needs greater than his own.
Humanity. Love your neighbor as yourself. That means you have to love yourself, too.
I was not surprised to hear of Porgy and Bess’ reception at the Tony’s. Well-deserved.