THE TOOLKIT Welcome to The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess! In this Toolkit, you will find everything you need to get ready for your trip to the A.R.T. Who’s Who (and What’s What) in Catfish Row 1 From Page to Stage to Stage Again 4 The Brothers Gershwin 6 It Ain’t Necessarily Opera: The Evolution of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess 7 Porgy Begins Adapting Porgy From Novel, to Play, to Opera, to Musical Reimagining Porgy and Bess
Porgy and Me 18 Reading List 20 For more articles, bits of history and exclusive interviews, check out the accompanied “Your Guide to The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.”
WHO’S WHO: THE RESIDENTS OF CATFISH ROW The fictional waterfront neighborhood of Catfish Row is the home for a lively community of workers from Charleston’s streets, docks and fields. The passionate romance between the beggar Porgy and the troubled outcast Bess inevitably changes Catfish Row, and its people, forever. Porgy
A handicapped man who begs on the streets of Charleston for change, Porgy believes his burden in life is to be lonely. Porgy is a beloved figure in his community and fiercely protected by his Catfish Row neighbors.
The beautiful, scar-faced Bess is known in Catfish Row as an outcast-- attached to her violent lover, Crown, and the local cocaine dealer, Sporting Life.
Bess’s dangerous lover has a violent temper and an appetite for liquor and drugs. He is incredibly strong, and often looking for a fight.
A troublemaker who recently returned to Catfish Row after living in New York City. He is the neighborhood’s supplier of drugs (or, “happy dust”), alcohol and other vices.
Mariah, owner of a butcher shop in Catfish Row, is the matriarch and protector of her community. Through her special bond with Porgy, she encourages the others to embrace Bess.
The wife of Robbins and a deeply religious woman. When her husband is killed, she grieves his passing.
Serena’s loving husband, Robbins, is a gambler. He is murdered in an altercation with Crown.
Clara’s husband, Jake is a fisherman and captain of his own boat, the Seagull. Ambitious and hardworking, Jake takes his boat out in rain or shine so his newborn son can, one day, go to college.
Jake’s wife and mother of his baby son, Clara sings the lullaby “Summertime” to her child. She desperately wishes Jake would not take his boat out during the hurricane season.
The sympathetic undertaker of Catfish Row.
Catfish Row’s crab seller, who jumps at the opportunity to play the (make-believe) role of Catfish Row’s resident lawyer.
WHAT’S WHAT: A SYNOPSIS OF THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS
On a quiet evening in Catfish Row, Clara sings a lullaby (“Summertime”) to her baby. In the courtyard, men gather for a game of dice (“Crap Game,” “A Woman is a Sometime Thing”). Amongst the players and bystanders are Porgy, a crippled beggar; Crown, an infamous drunk and bully; and Crown’s woman, Bess. When Porgy wins, Crown flies into a rage. Robbins jumps to Porgy’s defense. The two men fight, and Crown kills Robbins with a cotton hook. With the police on their way, Crown warns Bess that he will return for her, and then flees. With no one else in Catfish Row willing to take her in, Bess takes shelter with Porgy. The inhabitants of Catfish Row try to collect money to give Robbins a proper burial (“Gone, Gone, Gone”). Porgy and Bess shock their neighbors by entering together. After a troubling encounter with Charleston policemen investigating Robbins’s death, Serena laments the passing of her husband (“My Man’s Gone Now”). In this deeply spiritual moment, Bess surprises the community by convincing the undertaker to bury Robbins’ body. Bess begins to sing and the community joins her (“Leaving for the Promised Land”). One month later, the community is preparing for their annual picnic on Kittiwah Island. As the fishermen ready their nets for their next fishing trip (“It Takes a Long Pull”), Porgy comes out of his house, smiling. A changed man since Bess has begun living with him, Porgy sings about his newfound philosophy on life and love (“I Got Plenty
of Nothing”). Sporting Life, the drug dealer, arrives-- and is chastised by Mariah (“I Hates Your Strutting Style”). When Sporting Life tries to force Bess back into her drug addiction, Porgy defends Bess and warns Sporting Life not to peddle drugs to her again. Overcome by this action, Bess thanks Porgy. Porgy responds by declaring his love (“Bess, You Is My Woman Now,”) and in a beautiful duet, the two make a vow to each other. Seeing how happy Bess has made Porgy, Mariah invites Bess to the picnic. As the community boards the boat for Kittiwah Island (“Oh, I Can’t Sit Down”) Porgy encourages Bess to go with them, while he stays home and waits for the delivery of a new brace for his leg. Baskets in hand, Bess goes along with the rest of Catfish Row to the picnic. On Kittiwah Island, the Catfish Row community celebrates in dance and song. Sporting Life interrupts the festivities with a satirical punch on religion (“It Ain’t Necessarily So”). When it’s time to board the boat to leave the island, Bess sees Mariah has forgotten her hat and runs back to retrieve it. At this moment, Crown appears and reveals he has been hiding on the island. Torn between her love for Porgy and the power Crown has over her (“What You Want With Bess”), Bess stays on Kittiwah Island with Crown and the boat leaves without her. The next day (“It Takes a Long Pull (Reprise)”), Bess stumbles back to Catfish Row, having walked twenty miles home from Kittiwah during low tide. She collapses, weakened and delirious with fever. Serena prays for Bess’s health to return (“Oh,
Doctor Jesus”) while Porgy waits anxiously for Bess to wake. As Bess recovers, vendors walk about Catfish Row selling strawberries, honey and crabs (“Street Cries”). Bess awakens and admits to Porgy she has been with Crown; Porgy vows to protect Bess if Crown comes back for her (“I Loves You Porgy”). Meanwhile, Clara is out on the wharf waiting for Jake to return in the Seagull. The hurricane bell sounds, warning everyone that a storm is imminent. With a storm raging outside, all of Catfish Row huddles inside (“Oh, The Lord Shake the Heaven”). Suddenly, Crown barges in, mocking everyone’s prayers with a bawdy song (“A Red Headed Woman”). He demands that Bess go with him. When Clara sees that Jake’s boat has overturned in the ocean, she asks Bess to watch after her baby as she runs into the raging storm to find her husband. Crown follows after Clara to rescue her. The storm settles and the community bring ritual wreaths to the waterside, mourning the losses of Clara, Jake, and Crown in the storm (“Clara, Don’t You Be Downhearted”) When Serena asks what the community should do with Clara’s motherless child, Bess holds tightly onto the baby and reminds them that Clara’s last living word was for Bess to keep the child. Sporting Life appears and hints that Crown may still be alive. As Bess sings Clara’s lullaby to the child (“Summertime (Reprise)”), Crown returns to Catfish Row to take Bess away from Porgy. Having placed Mariah’s knife in his brace, Porgy attacks Crown and kills him. When the police arrive, they demand that Porgy come down to the station and
identify the body. Traumatized by the thought of being near Crown’s corpse, Porgy is dragged off unwillingly. In his absence, Sporting Life tempts Bess with cocaine, “happy dust,” and visions of a better life in New York City (“There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon”). Convinced she will never see Porgy again, and scared for her own life as the Detective hovers nearby, Bess leaves Catfish Row. Miraculously, Porgy returns to Catfish Row unscathed after spending time in prison. Eager to see Bess, he asks the community to call her out of the house and see the surprise he has brought her-- clothes for the baby and a new red dress. Porgy’s neighbors reluctantly reveal that Bess has left for New York without him. Porgy is distraught. As members of Catfish Row try to convince him that he his better off without Bess, Porgy throws down his cane and, in a state of fervor and confusion, he cries out for his love (“Where’s My Bess?”) Despite Mariah and Serena’s arguments that Bess was no good for Porgy, he declares he must leave Catfish Row and find Bess. The community, at first hurt and conflicted, turn their backs on Porgy. Yet, as Porgy’s determination becomes clear, his Catfish Row family embraces his choice and bids him farewell on his journey to find Bess (“I’m On My Way”).
What do you think happens next? Do Porgy and Bess find each other in New York?
FROM PAGE TO STAGE TO STAGE AGAIN fect it may be called a classic” (The New Republic). In addition to the mountain of praise, many reviewers noted what Heyward’s wife, Dorothy, had been telling him for months: with murder, love, and a catastrophic hurricane, Porgy was destined for the theater.
Like many contemporary plays and films, Porgy and Bess was originally a novel before it was adapted into a play and then, later, into an opera. This is the story of Porgy and Bess’s evolution from page to stage…to stage again. In 1924, Charleston, South Carolina native DuBose Heyward made the decision to give up his job as an insurance agent and pursue his first love—writing. Having garnered only minor recognition for his poetry, Heyward turned his focus to fiction, and to the local culture of his hometown. He had been raised surrounded by the Gullah African-American culture of the Carolina coast. In this environment, Heyward set to work on a novel, Porgy, inspired in part by Samuel Smalls, a local beggar. Smalls had lost the use of his legs and traveled around the streets of Charleston in a goat-drawn wagon.
Despite the encouragement from the press, Heyward was skeptical that Porgy would make a worthwhile adaptation for the stage. Film director and producer Cecil B. DeMille sought the rights to a film version of the novel, but the project was killed when the production company deemed it a hopeless endeavor that would never play in the South. During the next several months, Heyward turned down offers from three playwrights who were interested in bringing Porgy to the stage. However, when a letter arrived from George Gershwin, expressing interest in turning the novel into an opera, Heyward was thrilled by the idea of the great American composer adapting his work. Upon seeing her husband’s excitement, Dorothy Heyward was forced to come clean to her husband. Dorothy—herself a playwright—had been secretly at work on a stage version of Porgy for months. She sat DuBose down and read the play aloud to him.
Her work stayed true to the action of the novel, and Dorothy had brilliantly captured her husband’s narrative voice. Heyward was moved by his wife’s work, yet deeply torn between the play and Gershwin’s proposal for the opera. Heyward decided to remain loyal to his wife, and politely declined Gershwin’s opera, telling him that they would be pursuing Porgy as a play. Gershwin quickly wrote back and told the Heywards that writing an Catfish Row, the setting of Heyward’s novel, opera would take him years, and with the was drawn from the real-life Cabbage Row, a strong dramatic structure of a play on which block of decaying row houses inhabited by to base his music, Porgy could have life as black workers. When Porgy was published in both a play and opera. The Heywards were September 1925, critics hurried to praise it as thrilled. “the best novel of the season” (The Chicago Daily News) and “of a beauty so rare and per- Dorothy continued to work with input from 4
her husband. He helped her translate her dialogue into lines with what he considered a more Gullah quality. The Heywards also decided to omit a scene from the novel in which Bess, arrested during a cocaine binge, spends several days in prison for refusing to give up Sporting Life as her dealer. It was Dorothy who made one of the most significant changes from novel to stage. Instead of having Bess depart for Savannah, leaving a heartbroken Porgy back in Charleston, Bess runs off to New York, and a determined Porgy follows after her in his goat-wagon. While Gershwin worked on his opera, Porgy the play premiered on Broadway on October 10, 1927, and ran for a successful 367 performances. In 1932, George wrote to DuBose Heyward again, reaffirming his desire to adapt Porgy into an opera. By this point, Heyward was prepared to collaborate with Gershwin; he agreed to license the operatic rights to story. George spent the next year composing the score of Porgy and Bess. In the meantime, Heyward began working on the libretto (the text of the opera) with George’s brother and frequent collaborator, Ira Gershwin. Ira, a gifted lyricist, assisted Heyward in adapting his prose to be sung.
Heyward wrote the lyrics to many of Porgy and Bess’s well-known songs, including “Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now.” Ira (with Heyward’s help) wrote most of the lyrics in the second act. The three men worked together quite well and would look back fondly on the collaboration. Porgy and Bess premiered at Boston’s Colonial Theater on September 30th, 1935, to great critical acclaim. The story goes that George Gershwin and director Rouben Mamoulian walked around Boston Common until three in the morning, arguing over cuts to the score. The opera was nearly four hours long—too long for Broadway audiences, according to some. Finally, Gershwin agreed to make substantial cuts. He delivered the cut pages from the script to Mamoulian in a gift-wrapped parcel two days before the Broadway premiere, as a birthday present. It came with a note: “Thank you for making me take out all that stuff in Boston.” Porgy and Bess premiered on Broadway on October 10th, 1935. Seventy-six years later, Porgy and Bess returns to Boston. DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin’s masterpiece is as powerful as ever.
THE BROTHERS GERSHWIN George and Ira Gershwin were lifelong collaborators and friends. Their contributions to American music are instantly recognizable and many—“I Got Rhythm,” “S’Wonderful,” “You Can’t Take That Away from Me”—are still frequently heard today.
Ira Gershwin was the first lyricist to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for the 1932 musical comedy Of Thee I Sing. George, the younger brother, was the composer. He was capable of composing for both symphony halls (“Rhapsody in Blue” premiered at Carnegie Hall) and jazz clubs, and some of his best-known works meld the jazz aesthetic with sophisticated classical composition. George’s first song, “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em, When You Got ‘Em, You Don’t Want ‘Em” was published when he was seventeen years old. The tune earned George five dollars. Ira started his career in music a few years after George, penning the lyrics for the Broadway show Two Little Girls in Blue (1921) under the pseudonym Arthur Francis. Ira’s work was well received, providing the elder Gershwin with a foot in the Broadway door.
George and Ira then teamed up for a number of successful Broadway musicals, including: Lady Be Good (1924), Show Girl (1929) and Girl Crazy (1930)—from which one of the Gershwins’ most famous songs, “I Got Rhythm,” originated. George and Ira’s grandest achievement, one might argue, is the astoundingly rich and complex music of Porgy and Bess. The score, in addition to generating many popular jazz standards (“Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” among others), was well ahead of its time in combining many forms of music into what George Gershwin described as a “folk opera.” In the words of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess coadaptor, Diedre Murray: “It’s a hybrid. There’s such a wide range of influences and sounds in Porgy and Bess. Gershwin used to go up to Harlem to hear jazz, and then he also spent time on the islands in South Carolina. I also think there’s a lot of Puccini and Bizet in there. And Wagnerian flourishes. And ragtime. I even hear R&B and rap.”
Just two years after the premiere of Porgy and Bess, George Gershwin was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He died months later, on July 11, 1937, at the age of thirty-eight. Ira didn’t write any new material for three years after the death of his brother. Once he returned to the music world, Ira spent fourteen years writing lyrics for a wide range of theater and film musicals before retiring. George received his first and only Academy Award nomination posthumously, in 1937, for a song he wrote with Ira for the film Shall We Dance. The song, “You Can’t Take That Away From Me,” is a beloved classic. In 2007, the Library of Congress named its Prize for Popular Song after the Gershwin brothers. The award recognizes “the profound and positive effect of popular music on the world’s culture.” The first three winners of the prize were Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.
IT AIN’T NECESSARILY OPERA: THE EVOLUTION OF PORGY AND BESS As you now know, Porgy and Bess did not begin life as the “folk opera” we know and love. DuBose Heyward’s novel was the first iteration of Porgy and Bess’s story. On the next page, read the first words of Porgy.
From Heyward’s introduction, how do you envision the character of Porgy? What sights, sounds and smells are conjured up by Heyward’s description of Charleston? Compare and contrast this mental picture with the set, lighting and sound design of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess.
Porgy Begins Porgy lived in the Golden Age. Not the Golden Age of a remote and legendary past; nor yet the chimerical era treasured by every man past middle life, that never existed except in the heart of youth; but an age when men, not yet old, were boys in an ancient, beautiful city that time had forgotten before it destroyed… …No one knew Porgy’s age. No one remembered when he first made his appearance among the ranks of the local beggars. A woman who had married twenty years before remembered him because he had been seated on the church steps, and had given her a turn when she went in. Once a child saw Porgy, and said suddenly, “What is he waiting for?” That expressed him better than anything else. He was waiting, waiting with the concentrating intensity of a burning glass. As consistent in the practice of his profession as any of the business and professional men who were his most valued customers, Porgy was to be found any morning, by the first arrival in the financial district, against the wall of the old apothecary shop that stands at the corner of King Charles Street and The Meeting House Road. Long custom, reinforced by an eye for the beautiful, had endeared that spot to him. He would sit there in the cool of the early hours and look across the narrow thoroughfare into the green freshness of Jasper Square, where the children flew their kites, and played hideand-seek among the shrubs. Then, when the morning advanced, and the sun poured its semitropical heat between the twin rows of brick, to lie impounded there, like a stagnant pool of flame, he would experience a pleasant atavistic calm, and would doze lightly under the terrific heat, as only a full-blooded negro can. Toward afternoon a slender blue shadow would commence to grow about him that would broaden with great rapidity, cool the baking flags, and
turn the tide of customers home before his empty cup. But Porgy best loved the late afternoons, when the street was quiet again, and the sunlight, deep with color, shot level over the low roof of the apothecary shop to paint the cream stucco on the opposite dwelling a ruddy gold and turn the old rain-washed tiles on the roof to burnished copper. Then the slender, white-clad lady who lived in the house would throw open the deep French windows of the second story drawing-room, and sitting at the piano, where Porgy could see her dimly, she would play on through the dusk until old Peter drove by with his wagon to carry him home.
Adapting Porgy The dialogue between the residents of Catfish Row was written by DuBose Heyward as an attempt to capture the Gullah language of African-Americans in 1920’s South Carolina. The word Gullah was used to describe the culture of the Carolina coast, which was a mix of African and American Southern cultures. DuBose Heyward’s attempt at writing Gullah, which he heard often while growing up in Charleston, was very closely replicated in Dorothy Heyward’s play, Porgy. On the following pages, compare excerpts from the various iterations of the story— see if you can track how the language and storytelling evolved over time. The last excerpt is from the production you are about to see, the musical adaptation The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. What has Suzan-Lori Parks done to (in the words of co-adaptor Diedre Murray) “modernize without disturbing” Porgy and Bess?
The Novel: Bess on Kittiwah Island Almost immediately she was in another world. The sounds behind her became faint, and died. A rattler moved its thick body sluggishly out of her way. A flock of wood ibis sprang suddenly up, broke through the thick roof of palm leaves, and streamed away over the treetops toward the marsh with their legs at the trail. She cut a wide fan-shaped leaf from the nearest palmetto. Behind her someone breathed-a deep interminable breath. The woman’s body stiffened slowly. Her eyes half closed and were suddenly dark and knowing. Some deep ebb or flow of blood touched her face, causing it to darken heavily, leaving the scar livid. Without turning, she said slowly: “Crown!” “Yas, yuh know berry well, dis Crown.” The deep sound shook her. She turned like one dazed, and looked him up and down. His body was naked to the waist, and the blue cotton pants that he had worn on the night of the killing had frayed away to his knees. He bent slightly forward. The great muscles of his torso flickered and ran like the flank of a horse. His small wicked eyes burned, and he moistened his heavy lips. Earth had cared for him well. The marshes had provided eggs of wild fowl, and many young birds. The creek had given him fish, crabs and oysters in abundance, and the forest had fed him with its many berries, and succulent palmetto cabbage. “I seen yuh land,” he said, “an’ I been waitin’ fuh yuh. I mos’ dead ob lonesome on dis damn island, wid not one Gawd’s person to swap a word wid. Yuh gots any happy dus’ wid yuh?” 9
“No,” she said; then with an effort, “Crown, I gots somethin’ tuh tell yuh. I done gib up dope; and beside dat, I sort ob change my way.” His jaw shot forward, and the huge shoulder muscles bulged and set. His two great hands went around her throat and closed like the slow fusing of steel on steel. She stopped speaking. He drew her to him until his face touched hers. Under his hands her arteries pounded, sending fierce spurts of flame through her limbs, beating redly behind her eyeballs. His hands slackened. Her face changed, her lips opened, but she said nothing. Crown broke into low, shaken laughter, and threw her from him. “Now come wid me,” he ordered.
The Play: Act II, scene ii BESS: (In a low, breathless voice) Crown? CROWN: Yo’ know bery well dis Crown. (She turns and looks at him. He partly emerges from the thicket, naked to the waits, his cotton trousers frayed away to the knees.) I seen yo’ land, an’ I been waitin’ all day fo’ you’. I mos’ dead on dis damn islan’! BESS: (Looks at him slowly) Yo’ ain’t look mos’ dead. Yo’ bigger’n eber. CROWN: Oh, plenty bird’ egg, oyster, an’ t’ing. But I mos’ dead ob lonesome wid not a Gawd’s person fo’ swap a word wid. Lor’ I’se glad yo’ come! BESS: I can’t stay, Crown, or de boat go widout me. CROWN: Got any happy dus’ wid you? BESS: No. CROWN: Come on! Ain’t yo’ gots jus’ a little? BESS: No, I ain’t. I done give up dope. (CROWN laughs loudly.) CROWN: It sho’ do a lonesome man good to hab’ he ‘oman come an’ swap a couple joke wid um. BESS: Dat’s de Gawd’s trut’. An’ ‘sides—I gots sompen fo’ tell yo’.
CROWN: Yo’ bes’ listen to whut I gots fo’ tell yo’. I waitin’ here til de cotton begin comin’ in. Den libin’ll be easy. Davy’ll hide yo’ an’ me on de ribber boat fur as Savannah. Who yo’ libin wid’ now? BESS: I libin’ wid de cripple Porgy. CROWN: (Laughing) Yo’ gots de funny tas’ in men. But dats yo’ business. I ain’t care who yo’ takes up wid while I’m away. But ‘membuh whut I tol’ yo’! He’s temporary! I guess it be jus’ couple ob week’ now ‘fo I comes fo’ yo’! BESS: (With an effort) Crown, I got sompen fo’ tell yo’. CROWN: What dat? BESS: I—I sort ob change’ my way’. CROWN: How yo’ change? BESS: I—I libin’ wid Porgy now—an’ I libin’ decent. CROWN: Yo’ heah whut I tol’ yo? I say in couple week I comin’ fo’ you’, an’ yo’ goin’ tote fair ‘less yo’ wants to meet yo’ Gawd. Yo’ gits dat? BESS: Crown, I tells yo’ I change’. I stayin’ wid Porgy fo’ good. (He seizes her by the arm and draws her savagely toward him. The steamboat whistles. Take yo’ han’ off me. I goin’ miss dat boat!
The Play, Act II, scene ii (continued) BESS: dese arm’ yo’ got! Dere’s plenty betterI tells yo’ I means what I says. Porgy my man lookin’ gal dan me. Yo’ know how it always now… been wid yo’. Dese five year ‘now I been yo’ ‘oman—yo’ could kick me in de street, an’ CROWN: den, when yo’ ready fo’ me back, yo’ could (Jeering at her.) I ain’t had a laugh in weeks. whistle fo’ me, an’ dere I was again a-lickin’ yo’ han’. What yo’ wants wid Bess? She getBESS: tin’ ole now. (She sees that her flattery has Take yo’ hot han’ off me. I tells yo’ I stayin’ failed and is terrified.) Dat boat goin’ widwid Porgy for keeps. out me! Lemme go! Crown, I’ll come back fo’ see yo’. I swear to Gawd I’ll come on CROWN: de Friday boat. Jus’ lemme go now. I can’t Yo; is tellin’ me yo’ radder hab’ dat crawlin’ stop out here all night. I ‘fraid! Dere’s t’ings cripple dan Crown? movin’ in de t’icket—rattlesnake, an’ such! Lemme go, I tells yo’! Take yo’ han’ off me! BESS: (Taking a propitiatory tone) It like dis, CROWN: Crown—I de only ‘oman Porgy eber hab’. (Holding her and looking steadily at her). No An’ I thinkin’ how it goin’ be if all deses man ever take my ‘oman from me. It goin’ odder nigger’ goes back to Catfish Row to be good joke on Crown of he lose um to tonight, an’ I ain’t come home to um. He be one wid no leg’ an’ no gizzard. (Draws her like a little chil’ dat los’ its ma. closer.) So yo’ is change, is yo’? (Grips her (CROWN, still holding her, throws back his more tightly. Looks straight into her eyes.) head and laughs. BESS begins to be frightWhy yo’ say now? ened.) Yo’ can laugh, but I tells yo’ I change’! BESS: (Summoning the last of her resolution). I CROWN: stayin’ wid Porgy fo’ good. Yo’ change’ all right. Yo’ ain’t neber been so funny. (His jaw shoots forward, and his huge shoulder muscles bulge and set. Slowly his giant (The boat whistles. She tries to pull away. hands close round her throat. He brings his He stops laughing and holds her tighter with eyes still closer to hers. The boat whistles lowering look. Draws her nearer.) long and loud, but neither gives sign of hearing it. After a moment, CROWN laughs BESS: with satisfaction at what he sees in BESS’s Lemme go, Crown! Yo’ can get plenty odder eyes. His hands leave her throat and clasp women. her savagely by the shoulders. BESS throws back her head with a wild hysterical laugh.) CROWN: What I wants wid odder women? I gots a ‘oman. An’ dats yo’. See? BESS: (Trying flattery) Yo’ know how it always been wid’ yo’, Crown—yo’ ain’t neber want for a ‘oman. Look at dis chest, an’ look at 11
The Opera: Act II, scene ii BESS I livin’ wid de cripple Porgy.
Lemme go, Crown! You can get plenty of other women.
CROWN Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. You sho’ got funny taste in men, but dat’s yo’ business. I ain’t care who you takes up wid while I’s away. But membuh, what I tol’ you. He’s temporary. I reckon it’ll be just a couple ob weeks now ’fore I comes for you.
CROWN What I want wid other woman? I gots a woman an’ dat’s you, see!
BESS Crown, I got something to tell you. CROWN What dat? BESS I… I livin’ wid Porgy now, and I livin’ decent. CROWN You hear what I tol’ you, I say in a couple o’ weeks I’s comin’ for you, An’ you is goin’ tote fair, lessen you wants to meet yo’ Gawd, you gets dat? (Boat whistles) BESS Take yo’ han’s off me, I goin’ miss dat boat. CROWN You tellin’ me dat you’d rather have dat cripple dan Crown? BESS It’s like dis, Crown, I’s the only woman Porgy ever had, an’ I’s thinkin’ now, how it will be tonight when all those others gets ’em go back to Catfish Row. He’ll be sittin’ an’ watchin’ the big front gate, acountin’ ’em off, waitin’ for Bess. An’ when the las’ woman goes home to her man an’ I ain’ there… (CROWN laughs)
BESS Oh, what you want wid Bess? She gettin’ ole now; Take a fine young gal For to satisfy Crown. Look at this chest An’ look at these arms you got. You know how it’s always been with me, These five years I been yo’ woman, You could kick me in the street, And when you wanted me back, You could whistle, an’ there I was Back again, lickin’ yo’ hand. There’s plenty better lookin’ gal than Bess. Can’ you see, I’m with Porgy, Now and forever I am his woman, he would die without me. Oh, Crown, won’t you let me go to my man, to my man. He’s a cripple an’ needs my love, all my love. What you want wid Bess? Oh, let me go to my man… CROWN What I want wid other women, I gots a woman, yes, An’ dat is you, yes, dat is you, yes, I need you now an’ you’re mine jus’ as long as I want you. No cripple’s goin’ take my woman from me. You got a man tonight an’ that is Crown, You’re my woman, Bess, I’m tellin’ you, now I’m your man. (pressing her very close) BESS What you want with Bess? (Boat whistles) Lemme go, dat boat is goin’ without me! 12
The Opera: Act II, scene II (continued) CROWN You ain’t goin’ nowhere! BESS (weakening) Take yo’ hands off me, I say, yo’ hands, yo’ hands, yo’ hands.
(CROWN kisses her passionately)
The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess: Act II, scene ii Adapted by Suzan-Lori Parks
(Boat whistles) BESS Take your hands off me. I‘m gonna miss that boat. CROWN You telling me that you‘d rather have that cripple than Crown? BESS It’s like this, Crown. I’m the only woman Porgy ever had and I’m thinking now, how it will be tonight when all those others get back to Catfish Row. He’ll be sitting and watching. He’ll be watching and waiting for Bess. But I won’t be there --(CROWN laughs) BESS Lemmie go, Crown! You can get plenty of other women. CROWN What I want with other women? I got a woman and that‘s you, see! BESS What you want with Bess? She getting old now; Takes a fine young girl for to satisfy Crown. Look at this chest and look at these arms you got. You know how it’s always been with me, these five years I’ve been your woman, you could kick me in the street, and when you wanted me back, ou could whistle, and there I was back again, licking your hand. There’s plenty better looking gals than Bess. (CROWN and BESS sing at same time)
BESS Can’t you see, I’m with Porgy, Now and forever. I am his woman He would die without me. Oh, Crown, Won’t you let me go To my man! To my man! He is a cripple and Needs my love, All my love. What you want with Bess? Oh Let me go to my man. What you want with Bess? CROWN What I want with other women? I’ve got a woman, yes – And that is you, yes, That is you, yes. I need you now and you are mine, Just as long as I want you. No cripple’s gonna Take my woman from me. You got a man tonight and That is Crown, That is Crown, yes, Crown. You’re my woman, Bess. I’m telling you now I’m your man. (Boat whistles) BESS Lemmie go, that boat is going without me! CROWN You ain’t going nowhere! BESS (weakening) Take your hands off me, I say Your hand, your hands, your hands. (CROWN kisses her passionately, she kisses him back.)
REIMAGINING PORGY AND BESS A team of contemporary American theater artists has gathered at the A.R.T. to adapt this classic opera for the contemporary musical theater stage. This is how each of the creative leaders of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess contributed to the making of the show.
THE VISION Diane Paulus Director Diane Paulus’s vision of Porgy and Bess is one of community: “The production design breaks free from the tradition of large sets representing real architecture. This production will zoom in on the individuals in the community. So rather than presenting buildings and shutters and gates, we’re focusing on the important relationships and dynamics of the community.”
How do the major events of the play (the murder, the storm, the romance) affect the rest of Catfish Row? How does Catfish Row remind you of your own community?
THE WORDS Suzan-Lori Parks In revising Porgy and Bess, Pulitzer Prizewinning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks drew upon a key concept of her writing style— what she calls “repetition and revision.” In Parks’s other plays (such as Topdog/Underdog and In the Blood), history is retold but altered in a way that reveals something new in the present context. The idea is similar to the way jazz musicians will replay the same riff and improvise off it, creating new textures, sounds and feelings from a single melody. “After years of listening to Jazz, and classical music too, I’m realizing that my writing is very influenced by music; how much I employ its methods. Through reading lots I’ve realized how much the idea of Repetition and Revision is an integral part of the African and African-American literary and oral traditions.”
What does “repetition and revision” THE MOVEMENT mean to you? Has there ever been a Ronald K. Brown moment in your life that you wish you Choreographer Ronald K. Brown has develcould repeat (and revise)? THE MUSIC Diedre Murray In her own words, Diedre Murray describes the process of adapting the musical score of Porgy and Bess: “I spent a long time studying [George] Gershwin’s taste. When you’re arranging, you have to be able to think like that person. So I studied anything I could find that may have influenced him. I listened to other operas and classical music. And then I started listening to as many recordings and covers of Porgy and Bess as I could find. I noticed that there were a lot made in the 1960s-it was as if all those great jazz musicians suddenly discovered Porgy and Bess thirty years after it had premiered. Porgy and Bess is classical music, but in many ways it looks like a Jazz score. There’s music in there that foreshadows McCoy Tyner and Thelonious Monk... ...At the beginning of the show, Clara is singing “Summertime” to her baby. But when I listened to it, I asked myself, “Why is she singing so high? That would wake the baby up. It has to be a lullaby.” So I took the whole thing down. And then I decided that I wanted to use an accordion, because whenever I hear an accordion it always transports me someplace else-- a folkloric place that doesn’t have machines. So the show now opens with Clara singing “Summertime” as a duet with the accordion. And then it opens up into those luscious melodies with the strings.”
When you hear the music of Porgy and Bess, what does it remind you of? Do you recognize any of the score?
oped a specific movement vocabulary for The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, inspired by dance from native South Carolinian coastal culture (or Gullah). These social dances have origins dating back hundreds of years, and their modern incarnations can still be seen today. Ring Shout The ring shout is a dance element found in Church services of the Sea Islands in the Carolinas and Georgia, home of the Gullah culture. Worshippers form a circle outside, sometimes surrounding the church building, and stomp, clap, and sing a hymn of praise. The songs used for a ring shout features many defining characteristics of Southern African-American music, such as call-andresponse and “blue notes” (notes sung at a lower pitch). Cakewalk The cakewalk began as a tradition during the time of slavery in the United States, when white slave-owners would gather slaves to dance for them as a form of entertainment. The best dancer or dance couple would receive a cake as a prize. However, slaves subverted this act by purposely mocking whites’ formal ballroom dances, a fact that went unnoticed by the slave owners. The cakewalk was not exclusively practiced in Gullah culture, but throughout the American South. Even after slavery ended, the cakewalk remained a fixture in social gatherings. During the 1930s, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the Federal Writers’ Project travelled the country collecting firstperson accounts from former slaves, including their memories of the cakewalk:
“...the cake walk was originally a plantation dance, just a happy movement they did to the banjo music because they couldn’t stand still. It was generally on Sundays, when there was little work, that the slaves both young and old would dress up in handme-down finery to do a high-kicking, prancing walk-around. They did a take-off on the manners of the white folks in the “big house”, but their masters, who gathered around to watch the fun, missed the point. It’s supposed to be that the custom of a prize started with the master giving a cake to the couple that did the proudest movement.” -Ragtime entertainer Shepard Edmonds, 1950
Why include elements of Cakewalking and Ring Shouts in Porgy and Bess? What does dance mean to a community like Catfish Row?
PORGY AND ME The score of Porgy and Bess is an undisputed masterpiece; but it remains a story of an African-American community written by men who are not of that culture. It took tremendous reach and thought for the Gershwins and DuBose Heyward to write about Catfish Row, especially during a time when black writers, composers and lyricists had a much more difficult time telling their own stories on Broadway. As times have changed, so has popular perception of Porgy and Bess—for many years, African-American artists and intellectuals rejected the opera as an inaccurate, even racist, portrayal of their culture. Here is co-adaptor Suzan-Lori Parks’s views on the original: “Porgy and Bess was written by white authors attempting to replicate an ‘authentic’ black voice and, while the original opera triumphs on so many levels, I feel the writing sometimes suffers from what I call ‘a shortcoming of understanding.’ There are times in all of our lives when, regardless of who we are, we experience shortcomings of understanding. In DuBose and Dorothy Heyward and the Gershwins’ original, there’s a lot of love and a lot of effort made to understand the people of Catfish Row. In turn, I’ve got love and respect for their work, but in some ways I feel it falls short in the creation of fully realized characters. Now, one could see their depiction of African-American culture as racist, or one could see it as I see it: as a problem of dramaturgy [the construction of a play].”
Read what famous musicians, writers, scholars and critics have said about Porgy and Bess, throughout its history. George Gershwin - Composer of Porgy and Bess “Because Porgy and Bess deals with Negro life in America it brings to the operatic form elements that have never appeared in opera and I have adapted my method to utilize the drama, the humor, the superstition, the religious fervor, the dancing and the irrepressible high spirits of the race. If, in doing this, I have created a new form, which combines opera with theatre, this new form has come quite naturally out of the material.”
Anne Brown – the first Bess in Porgy and Bess (1935) “[Porgy and Bess] also expressed [Gershwin’s] acceptance of all forms, his love for the elements of the rhythm and the harmonies of black men.”
Grace Bumbry – Bess in the 1985 Metropolitan Opera Porgy and Bess “I resented the role at first, possibly because I really didn’t know the score, and I think because of the racial aspect. I thought it beneath me, I felt I had worked far too hard, that we had come too far to have to regress to 1935. My way of dealing with it was to see that it was really a piece of Americana, of American history. Whether we like it or not, whether I sang it or not, it was still going to be there.”
Truman Capote – Author and diarist, accompanied the Porgy and Bess tour to Russia “I wish I had a ticket for every night. Powerful! I will never forget it. But the question isn’t whether I forget, or what we old folks think. It’s the young people who matter. It matters that they have new seeds planted in their hearts. Tonight, all these young people will stay awake. Tomorrow, they’ll be whistling the music. A nuisance, humming in the classrooms. And in the summer, that’s what you’ll hear: young people whistling along the river. They won’t forget. “
Harold Cruse – Scholar and sociologist “Porgy and Bess belongs in a museum and no self-respecting African American should want to see it, or be seen in it. … It portrays the seamiest side of Negro life… presumably the image of black people that white audiences want to see. As a symbol of that deeply ingrained, American cultural paternalism practiced on Negroes ever since the first Southern white man blacked his face, the folk-opera Porgy and Bess should be forever banned by all Negro performers in the United States. No Negro singer, actor, or performer should ever submit to a role in this vehicle again. If white producers want to stage this folk-opera it should be performed by white performers made up in blackface, because it is distorted imitation all the way through.”
Sidney Poitier – Film actor who portrayed Porgy in the 1959 film Porgy and Bess “In my judgment, Porgy and Bess was not material complimentary to black people; and for the most part, black people responded negatively to that American opera, although they stood ready to acknowledge and applaud the genius in the music. I decided that the role was not for me and quite possibly injurious to Negroes….
Duke Ellington – Composer, pianist and bandleader In 1935: “The times are here to debunk Gershwin’s lampblack Negroisms…the music does not hitch with the mood and spirit of the story. It does not use the Negro musical idiom.” Ellington later reversed his opinion upon seeing Robert Breen’s revival in 1953: “Your Porgy and Bess the superbest, singing the gonest, acting the craziest, Gershwin the greatest.”
W.E.B. Du Bois – Scholar and civil rights activist “White artists themselves suffer from this narrowing of their field. They cry for freedom in dealing with Negroes because they have so little freedom in dealing with whites. DuBose Heywood [sic] writes Porgy and writes beautifully of the black Charleston underworld. But why does he do this? Because he cannot do a similar thing for the white people of Charleston, or they would drum him out of town. The only chance he had to tell the truth of pitiful human degradation was to tell it of colored people.”
William Warfield – Porgy in the 1952 European tour of Porgy and Bess “There was now another feeling in the community about being black – I’m a black man and proud. And with that attitude came a lot of negation and turning your back on things. … Those of us in Porgy and Bess saw ourselves as playing only roles, and in no way did we play them as ordinary black stereotypes. It was art, and we were artists.”
READING LIST Want to learn more about Porgy and Bess? Here’s our (non-required) reading list: •
Porgy by DuBose Heyward (1925)
The Life and Times of Porgy & Bess: The Story of an American Classic by Hollis Alpert
The Gershwins by Robert Kimball and Alfred Simon
Charleston! Charleston!: A History of the Southern City by Walter J. Fraser Jr.
Mamba’s Daughters by Dorothy and DuBose Heyward
The America Play by Suzan-Lori Parks
Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America by David S. Reynolds
The African-American Century by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
CAPTIONS Page 1: The cast of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Photo: Michael Lutch Page 2: Concept sketch for Act I, scene i for the original production of Porgy and Bess, by Sergei Soudeikine, 1934 (Courtesy of Houghton Library, Harvard University) Page 3: The cast of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Photo: Michael Lutch Page 4: Dorothy and DuBose Heyward (Courtesy of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust) Page 5: Still from Act I of the original production of Porgy and Bess (Courtesy of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust) Page 6: Ira Gershwin and George Gershwin (Courtesy of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust) Page 7: George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin collaborating on Porgy and Bess (Courtesy of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust) Page 9: Original cover of Heyward’s novel, Porgy Page 13: Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Photo: Michael Lutch) Page 15: Diedre Murray, Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks in rehearsal Photo: Mia Walker Page 17: The cast of The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Photos: Michael Lutch
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