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A CurtainUp Review
The Portuguese Kid
By Elyse Sommer
MTC is still home to Shanley's penchant for letting the moon work its charm on fraught relationships. In Outside Mullingar (at the company's Broadway venue in 2014) Shanley again had the moon shine on an older couple, this one not in Brooklyn but Ireland. In The Portuguese Kid, his latest romantic comedy-drama, Shanley brings together both a 29-year-old and a middle-aged pair of misfits for a game of mismatched new partnerships that are headed for a re-matchup.
The setting this time is Providence, Rhode Island and the characters' mixed-up relationships are now a potpourri of hyphenates: The twice-widowed Atalanta Galana (Sherie Rene Scott) is a Greek-American widow who doesn't let despair get her down because she believes that "optimism comes back like a bad tooth". . . . Barry Dragonetti (Jason Alexander), a Sicilian-Croation lawyer who blames his enduring sense of masculine inadequacy on Atalanta's rescuing him from a Portuguese mugger when they were both kids. . . .Freddie Imbrosi (Pico Alexander), the current young lover she picked up at her last husband's funeral, is an Italian-American. . .Patty (Aimee Carrero) Barry's bride and Freddie's former girl friend is a Puerto Rican-American. Oh, and let's not forget Mrs. Dragonetti, Barry's mother who more than lives up to the first half of her surname.
Sound like an American version of a Noel Coward sex comedy but with the stamp of Shanley's own zinger spiced tough talk and less glamorous characters? Well it is, sort of. But with Jason Alexander, forever identified with Seinfeld's George Costanza, there's simply no escaping that it all feels less Cowardesque or top-tier Shanley than an episode from that iconic sitcom made timely courtesy of a running joke about whether Barry and Freddie voted for Donald Trump. Shanley pushes even harder on the Trumpian tie-in by letting a real estate transaction drive the plot— from the antagonistic pas de deux in Barry's office to the inevitable hopeful realignment of the messed up intergenerational couplings.
Manhattan Theatre Club has typically supported this world premiere with a top of the line production. As in Outside Mullingar, John Lee Beatty has created a drop dead rotating set for each of the four scenes, and William Ivey Long has, as usual, dressed the actors in an array of fit-to-a-T costumes.
The play follows the arc of its improbable beginning, when a young Atalanta rescued Barry from a Portugese mugger. For Barry her robbing him of "his moment" resulted in unending insecurity about his masculinity along with a dislike of anyone with a Portuguese heritage. For Atalanta that event caused her to call out Barry's name even when making love to one of her husbands.
Given Barry's yearning for a more macho image, it's no wonder that his relationship with Atalanta is further complicated by his having impetuously voted for Donald Trump. ("I didn't think about it that much. It seemed like it was the men against the women, and so I voted for the man").
While Mr. Alexander is fine as a financially successful version of his Seinfeld character there's really nothing here to allow him to really stretch himself. Sherie Renee Scott and Mary Testa make the most of their rather stereotypical roles —. Scott as the flamboyant 2-time widow and Testa the gorgon mother. I advisedly refer to Mrs. Dragonetti as a gorgon since it's a word from Greek mythology and thus fits in with Mr. Shanley's program note explaining his vision of Atalanta's marital mishaps echoing the mythical Atalanta's romantic adventures.
As Shanley has tried to link his comedy to Greek mythology, so he obviously wanted to use his Trump jokes to pinpoint yet another reason why we're currently caught up in many of the same in-fighting and hotheaded decision-making of Greek legends and tragedies. The twenty-something Freddie justifies his do-nothing stance on election day with "If this is what the world looks like when you clowns run the show, you can count me out! Me and Patty, we're like rented beach chairs for you bozos." He further notes that there was no choice between "him and her . . .two old people." That said, Freddie does like some old things, like Shanley's favorite symbol of happiness, the moon.
Neatly as the loose ends are tied up, nothing in The Portuguese Kid is as good as you expect from this author. Anyway, I'm pretty sure that Mr. Shanley, like me, would not mind if the political zeitgeist would soon take a turn that would make a play so reliant on Donald Trump jokes completely ephemeral.
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The Portuguese Kid
Written and Directed by John Patrick Shanley
Cast: Jason Alexander (Barry Dragonetti), Sherie Rene Scott (Atalanta Lagana), Mary Testa (Mrs. Dagonetti), Pico Alexander(Rreddie Imbrosi), Aimee Carrero (Patty Dragonetti).
Sets: John Lee Beatty
Costumes: William Ivey Long
Original Music and Sound: Obadiah Eaves
Stage Manager: James Fitzsimmons
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes with no intermission
MTC City Center Stage 1 131 West 55th Street
. From 9/19/17; opening 10/24/17; closing 12/03/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/20 press preview
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