She's tragic, addicted to drugs, and surrounded by men that are no good. He's poor, physically weak, and isn't the ideal age to start a new life with a young lover. Together they are Porgy and Bess, the Gershwin's iconic duo who make large waves in the small fishing town of Catfish Row.
Life is not easy in this community. People have next to nothing, it's hot, and there is no easy way out. In fact, it's the type of town where most live, and later die. Catfish Row is filled with every character one would encounter in a large city-- a manipulative drug dealer, an ill-tempered bully with a violent streak, young lovers, the devout, bible thumpers, drunks, saints, the entire lot of human personality live within its four walls.
At the helm, live two of opera's most beloved and complicated individuals--Porgy and Bess, one oil and the other water. In spite of their differences they unite, build a relationship, plan for a future together, and consider life beyond the confines of the community as a duo, as partners, as lovers. They challenge fate's odds and share some of the most tender moments on opera's stage-- "Bess, you is my woman now" and "I loves you Porgy." Having been part of this production and witness to life on the Row, I will testify it's not an easy place, no matter how comfy my dressing room or fictional my experience: I sweated. I lifted. I took iburprofen. Now that all the nets have been emptied, the storm shutters opened, and all the residents back to our ordinary routine, I'm left with questions, questions that explore what romantic partnerships mean.
Romantic kinship is one big mystery, like a Rubik's cube in the pilot seat of an aircraft that's vanished behind a big red curtain, in Atlantis. It makes sense that people break up, fight, divorce, go separate ways. That makes sense. After all, we quarrel, we harbor animosities, and we settle grudges. It's shocking when a friend tells you that they've parted ways with a lover, despite the length of time they've been in cahoots; but after time we can accept that splitting up is normal, simply something the species does, regularly. In fact, it's less a mystery why people separate than is it to understand how we stick together! The couple who endures decades, buys a pug, shops for the other's parents on holidays all while building years of togetherness during the various stages of life-- well, that's perplexing, nestled somewhere between quantum physics and whatever the hell makes Jimmy John's so god damn fast.
In the case of Porgy and Bess, we learn a lot about love and relationships. She leaves him, for the high life in New York city. No real goodbye, no I'll wait for you--simply here one day, gone the next. But, aren't these characters who've seen each other at their worst, at their most fragile and most vulnerable states? In the end, before parting, did it matter? They slept side-by-side, offered protection from the harsh life on the Row; they thought about the future together, a child came into the picture. Yet, no white horse, no picket fence, no portrait window, and certainly no lhasa apso named Mips. Suddenly, just like that, they are no more. The curtain falls.
Granted this duo is merely one of the hundreds we could consider when it comes to challenges of love and life. It's not so uncommon, the difficulty of relationships. So what's it supposed to mean, being with someone, sharing life together? It's a truly beautiful question and an antagonizing inquiry all at the same time. Looking back at Porgy and Bess, fortunately, it's easier to recall the love and goodness more so than the conflict. An orchestra and libretto help a great deal with that. I interpret love between these two as healing, healing from transgressions of the community and from the past. And just like you and I, when we've done the best we can and have hopefully patched each other best way we know how, a bittersweet postlude gives cadence to our time together. And again, another curtain falls. This time, no ovation to follow.
Much like relationships in life, no different from Bess or Porgy, it's simply not intended--or likely-- that we remain hand-in-hand with every partner invited into our lives. Maybe, through the strife, the doubts that pang our hearts, and even the bitter discourse we encounter, instead, perhaps it is meant that we learn higher exponents of kindness and the vast expression of tenderness. Perhaps then, we become better suited for our next adventure in happily ever after.