There’s a boat that is leaving soon for New York
Sometimes you’re asked to do a favor for someone and it ends up not only being no big deal but you end up enjoying yourself. This is not one of those cases. So it was that I found myself seated in a suburban high school auditorium to watch an all-white all-teen cast put on Porgy and Bess. If I were to tell you right now that later on in this story I will be using the term disaster to describe the performance I bet you’re going to leap to the conclusion that it somehow involves their singing or lack of cultural sensitivity.
You couldn’t be further from the truth. I actually enjoyed their renditions of Porgy and Bess classics such as “It Isn’t Necessarily So” and “Bess, You Are My Woman Now”. I didn’t find the casting to be any less believable than when I watched The Cosby Show growing up.
So what was the problem? Well the whole time I’m watching the show my eye keeps getting pulled over to this trashcan they had set up in Catfish Row. In order to add a little realism to the set they had long strands of red, orange and yellow cellophane obviously being blown up by a fan inside the trash can to give the look of a fire. Now as I sat there I realized that this was far less dangerous than having a real fire but at the same time I thought they were being awfully cavalier about it. A fake fire is still a fake fire after all.
Sure enough in Act 3 while Sporting Life (who, because of the location of the production, doesn’t sell drugs but is instead a local distributor of energy drinks), played with the kind of grit you rarely see in a handsome blonde affluent teenager, is trying to convince Bess to run off to New York City with him, I see a yellow strand of cellophane break loose from the trash can and float off unnoticed and land on the rickety wood stairs in the back of the stage. While Bess does her best to resist his seductions I suddenly see a few more colorful stands of cellophane appear on the stairs. Soon the entire staircase erupts into strands of cellophane!
Panic ensues as adults rush in from each of the stage with fake-fire extinguishers but by that time the cellophane had quickly spread to the surrounding backdrops and even the curtains had long strands of red, orange and yellow cellophane covering them.
Poor Porgy (portrayed with conviction by Brad Silverman) hadn’t even been given the chance to begin singing “Oh, Lord, I am on my way” when he was engulfed in cellophane. By now shock and dismay had swept through the crowd and we began to empty the auditorium and make our way down the front steps of the high school and into the parking lot as the fake-fire alarm rang. We stood outside in the brisk night air and waited for the fake-fire department to come roaring up in their fake-fire engines to put out the fake-fire that was threatening to make it appear as if the whole building was burning to the ground.
This is as good a time as any to mention the play was a disaster.