Goings on in South Carolina

George Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess” with libretto by DuBose Heyward was controversial when it debuted in 1935 for its depiction of the lives of African Americans living in Catfish Row, a slum in Charleston, S.C. Gershwin considered it a folk-opera, but the racial overtones were quite potent and it was criticized for reinforcing stereotypes about African Americans living in poverty, taking drugs and killing each other. Revivals of the show have met with varying degrees of success, reaching a low point during the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s and 70s. Fast forward to 2011 when playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and Diedre Murray adapted the book and music to reflect more contemporary attitudes about race. Given the recent history of police abuse of power, there is added frisson in the scenes with the white detective and his too-ready-with-a-club enforcer. Inevitably it’s the music and Heywood’s lyrics which keep this show coming back and Ensemble Theatre Company’s production with a score played by a live jazz ensemble under the direction of Kevin Toney, who also provided additional arrangements, is set during the tumultuous ’60s and features a superb cast of singer/actors.