photos by Maria Baranova
Set in a gentrified Brooklyn neighborhood, this 21st century
rom-com opens in what the playwright Kate Benson describes as a Bouchy Bar
meaning "Bourgeois and also Douchy." The play reunites Ms.
Benson with her fellow Obie Award winner, director Lee Sunday Evans, whose
steady imaginative hand draws sharp, lively performances from the excellent
[PORTO] is populated by patrons who are identified by their drink of
choice and staff by their occupations. Overseeing the proceedings,
providing "stage commandments" is the author herself, known as [
]. This narrative is merged with the conflicted inner thoughts of the
central character Porto.The brackets also appear to be both a trap for the
Millennial Porto, played with just the right mix of strength and confusion by
Julia Sirna-Frest, and be a force pushing her to break free.
The voice-over guide immediately sets up some key tenets of the
play by introducing a grisly matter of fact description of the production of
sausage which becomes a visceral metaphor for the callous, often destructive,
meat market dating scene faced by Porto and other women like her. It also, not
to subtly, asks the question if we know how the sausage is made can we enjoy
it, which re-enforces another major theme that life is messy.
When we first meet Porto she's contemplating living a healthier lifestyle
for the umpteenth time as she decides to take her usual place at her usual bar
on the way home from work which the godlike narrator helps her justify by
citing how actress Lilly Langtree won her suit during the 1900's against a
restaurant forcing them to admit unaccompanied women at the bar "so really…you
sitting alone at the bar: A feminist act. Do it."
The play itself is a feminist act exploring the stereotypes, pressures
of accepted behavior and principles that make finding love ever more difficult
for intelligent thinking women who have been burned repeatedly in the meat
market dating scene, and fall back on the idea that it may be better, safer, to
just be alone.
In the bar we meet an assortment of characters who accurately
lampoon familiar types found in like establishments, in like cities
everywhere. There is Doug the Bartender, a pretentious foodie who owns
the bar and bullies its patrons into making what he views as appropriate
decisions therein, played to perfection by Noel Joseph Allain (co-founder and
artistic Director of the Bushwick Starr where [PORTO] debuted in 2017)
Ugo Chukwu, Julia Sirna-Frest
Next there is Raphael the Waiter brought to life by the warmly
engaging Ugo Chukwu. He admires Porto and other women who he identifies
as the "serious ones" carrying "two books to work in case they
finish one on the train." His dream is opening a bar that sells books.
Another patron regular at the bar is Dry Sak, a spot-on Leah
Karpel, Says Doug, "she doesn't eat food really, she subsists on olives
and bitterness." Dry Sak is definitely pretty, exemplifying the old
adage "Never too thin." Her self-centered attitude, however,
makes her clueless to the fact that she, not others, is the cause of her
obvious destructive behavior.
Julia Sirna-Frest, Leah Karpel,
Noel Joseph Allain, Jorge Cordova.
The newest member to join the bar regulars is Hennepin, an
appealing Jorge Cordova. He's a nice looking, flannel-y beer
drinking sort of guy seeking a Hennepin, some food and, if the opportunity
presents itself, a hook-up. When it does, the foreplay between Porto and
himself, as they lob back and forth the books they've read, such as Infinite
Jest, Moby Dick, Sound and Fury, Lolita, Catcher and the Rye, each in its own
way about longing, the search for happiness and fulfillment, is a mordantly
delightful moment in the play.
In her head, Porto is counseled by a chorus of Dumb Bunnies, a
pair of human size friends in rabbit suits (played by Doug and Raphael), who
provide her with stock advice on how to attract a man, "You don't need to
eat so much" "You don't need to drink so much”... "What you need
to get a man is to wear lipstick and high heels..., short skirts and long
legs... a tighter higher bottom..., some sparkle" Porto's response to
this advice is to share with her bunny companions some of her dinner, hasenpfeffer,
telling them after they partake, it's rabbit stew.
Later, the morning after Porto and Hennepin connect, while
Hennepin is still sleeping in Porto's bed, the pair of counselors appear once
more but this time at the kitchen table as Simone De Beauvoir and Gloria
Steinhem to provide advice and debate on the new era of feminist dogma.
"You might let him sleep and take yourself out for a lavish
breakfast," offers Simone. "Whatever you do," emphasizes Gloria,
"do not cook for him." It's both an hilarious and all too
true scene today for most women as they analyze the implications of doing
something as simple as making a bed partner a cup of coffee.
Kristen Robinson's set design captures the needed elements of the
striving upper middle-class bar and Porto’s book-lined apartment transitioning
smoothly from one to the other with the use of opening and closing stage
curtains. Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting and Kate Marvin's sound is
effective and supports the changing moods. Asta Bennie Hostetter's
costumes are just right for the occasion.
[PORTO] argues with wit and charm the importance of breaking free of
societal confines, accepting who you are and opening yourself up to the
possibilities of life. There are a lot of voices talking to you, listen to the
ones that are best and right for you.
Off Broadway play
WP Theater, 2162 Broadway. Upper West Side
Running time approximately 80 minutes
Closing date: March 4, 2018