Full disclosure: I didn’t make it to the hurricane scene in last night’s simulcast of Porgy and Bess at Marion Square. However, that was not because of the rainfall; it was because I had a toddler in tow and had always planned on slipping out a bit nearer to her bedtime.
And, yes, I am going to beat this meteorological metaphor into the cold, damp ground. In the midst of less-than-agreeable conditions, an intrepid, impressive crowd of cultural true believers weathered the prospect of a storm, hunkering down during a deluge or two, to be set on their way by the genius of George Gershwin and the staggering talents of this cast. They were rewarded for their devotion, laying claim to prime real estate in front of two state-of-the-art Jumbotrons, and ensconced in a phenomenally rich sound system resounding robust and triumphant over scattered showers and city traffic.
As twilight fell, the stage’s first blue tones filtered through close ups of familiar wrought iron gates, honoring one of Charleston’s finest longstanding feats of artistry. And, as night came, contemporary artist Jonathan Green’s vibrant, saturated splashes of reds and pinks and greens offered visual warmth to a muted Marion Square. The crowd was transfixed and unflappable as sprinkles persisted. Everyone simply raised umbrellas and drew loved ones closer.
These fickle conditions only added to the prevailing gorgeous strains of “Summertime,” which, in coastal Charleston, can be the best of times and the worst of times. And, since the action in Porgy and Bess plays out mainly in the open air, the outdoor screening gave palpable new context to the ill-fated courtyard craps game, the Kittiwah picnic, and the raging hurricane. In fact, based on my husband’s account, Crown’s dramatic return in Act III (shortly after 10 p.m.) seemed all the more potent and menacing amidst the lingering remains of a greatly diminished Tropical Depression Bonnie.
With the Citadel Square Baptist Church steeple rising over the screens, it was impossible not to reflect on the Mother Emanuel steeple a few paces east on Calhoun. With these monuments to community all around, everyone — the black and the white, the fancy and the just folks — let Porgy and Bess wash over them, without one audible gripe or crab.
Because that’s what people do in Charleston when conditions threaten. They come out to honor the first of two free simulcasts, with the next being tonight at 7:30 p.m. at West Ashley High School. They graciously accept Spoleto Festival USA’s grand gesture (which, incidentally, was likely not inexpensive to produce). And — present company excluded, as a tired toddler is just poor operatic form — they stay right on through to what was undoubtedly the achingly beautiful, bittersweet end.