DIGRESSION: Run, don’t walk, to see The Portuguese Kid

My father thinks it is time for my blog to start including reviews of the theater I see in the here and now, even if the review is not of a solo performance and even if I’m nervous about participating in something called theater reviewing. So, because I recognize that it makes me nervous to do it, and because my father likes to be right, I have to give it a try. Often I attend plays that have nothing to do with monologues or solo performances. So, occasionally, I will digress from my narrative on the solo performance form and share some thoughts about plays that I attend. This post will regale you with all that is wonderful about John Patrick Shanley’s latest play The Portuguese Kid which I saw the day before Thanksgiving at the matinee performance at the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center.

John Patrick Shanley, for those of you who don’t know, is the author of the Moonstruck screenplay which starred Cher, Danny Aiello and Nicolas Cage, as well as the author of the Tony-award and Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, Doubt which was also turned into a film, and since we took students to it and Debra Messing of Will and Grace fame was in it, I will also mention that he is the author of the play Outside Mullingar.

Shanley’s most recent playwriting venture is The Portuguese Kid and it stars Jason Alexander (yes, THAT Jason Alexander, of Seinfeld fame, and YES he is just as funny on stage as on the tv screen), Pico Alexander (he has extremely fluid facial expressions and is lots of fun to watch), Aimee Carrero (a delight to observe as she exercises considerable comic skills), Sherie Rene Scott (she’s been getting a lot of acclaim for her theater roles and NOW I KNOW WHY—her performance was in the category of one-in-a-million), and Mary Testa (she had the audience in the palm of her hands throughout her performance of the overbearing mother).

The play was hysterical AND smart AND immensely theatrical AND everyone MUST GO. It was a marvel of comic acting and comic timing. The world has too few of these kind of plays to savor. In one priceless scene, for example, Aimee Carrero, in the part of the young Patty Dragonetti tries out vaping. What is important to note here is that her character is one who yearns for mystery. So, now, imagine this young woman puffing away so assiduously on her vaping mechanism that clouds of smoke come billowing out, enveloping her in a haze of mystery certainly…one that makes you bust out laughing.

The Portuguese Kid is the kind of play that makes audiences laugh (lots of sight gags like the one mentioned above as well as more bawdy ones and lots of verbal battles of wit), but it also encourages audiences to think, critique AND hope (because the laughter puts us all in really good moods by the show’s end) at the same time. I thank Mr. Shanley from the bottom of my heart for not only writing it, but also for directing it in such a way that its deceptively irrelevant but really oh-so-relevant comedy is highlighted. Now this is a very important point. Why, you ask? Because of a conversation I overheard as I was walking out the theater. As soon as the curtain came down, audience members continued to smile and laugh, and it was clear that just about every single one of them had thoroughly enjoyed the performance (since I didn’t actually speak to each and every audience member, I will err on the side of conservatism, although my gut tells me that the laughter was unanimous). Then, as I was walking up the stairs out of the City Center theater, I did a little eavesdropping (a perennial undertaking when I leave a theater) and listened intently to a conversation taking place behind me. A woman was explaining to her friend that though she was pretty sure she wouldn’t remember what the play was about in the next week or two because it didn’t have any serious content or anything particularly memorable about it, the experience of the one-hour-and-forty-minute performance was fun and enjoyable. Her friend appeared to agree with her, but I could tell by the way they were speaking that they felt that because they were laughing so hard, the play couldn’t have had much substance to it.

I DISAGREE wholeheartedly with that judgment!! There was nothing but substance! This just proves to me yet again what I have always felt, which is that comedies, and especially artfully-wrought comedies, often get dismissed and the more they make us laugh, the more they seem to get dismissed. Audiences must unite and stand up for comedy! Not much going on in The Portuguese Kid? Well here’s one audience member who is still thinking about the play, and, in the next post, I will describe some of what I saw going on.

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