The Portuguese Kid
Jason Alexander and Sherie Rene Scott in The Portuguese Kid. Photo: Richard Termine
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Gather a cast of first-class actors, add some laughs, some romance and chances are, you have a pretty good play. Not a great play, not flawless, not wall-to-wall hilarious, but enough to send out the audience with a smile.
John Patrick Shanley hit gold in 1988 with his Oscar-winning screenplay for Moonstruck. He earned a Tony Award for the drama, Doubt and plays like Prodigal Son and Outside Mullingar were hit or miss. Now, The Portuguese Kid, a Manhattan Theatre Club debut, with an engaging cast of five led by Jason Alexander and Sherie Rene Scott, is loaded for laughs but too much of their comedy comes off as gilt rather than gold.
Loosely based on the Greek myth of Atalanta, Shanley's book is predictable and liberally clichéd with over-the-top Italian and Greek flair. Barry Dragonetti (Alexander) and Atalanta Lagana (Scott) are childhood friends from Providence.
After the latest of her two husbands died, Atalanta, gorgeously dressed to the nines by William Ivey Long, visits Barry, now a lawyer. They have known each other long enough to push the most sensitive buttons and deliver some of the play's funniest lines. Barry still resents Atalanta for once saving him from a local teenage bully who happened to be Portuguese and since then he has blamed Atalanta for emasculating him and distrusts all things Portuguese.
The two can't help but quibble with several running jokes like the fee Barry wants to handle the sale of Atalanta's large house. That grows tiresome enough but worse is Atalanta's repetitive, "Did you vote for Trump?". Barry tries to avoid answering but he finally admits, "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". Her response? What do you think?
Alexander (TV's Seinfeld
) brings to Barry a bristling insecurity. Scott (Everyday Rapture
) dives into her Atalanta character with zest and fury, a diva with a dark side. The audience pleaser, however, is Mary Testa as Mrs. Dragonetti, Barry's Sicilian dragon of a mother and secretary, eyes-popping and breathing fire as she storms in to save Barry from Atalanta.
She is just as intense with Barry's new wife, Patti Dragonetti (Aimee Carrero), a nubile 29-year-old Puerto Rican who is wily and impassioned enough to take care of herself. Atalanta is also with a much younger lover, coincidentally, Patti's ex-boyfriend, Freddie Imbrossi (Pico Alexander), rough around the edges but amenable to being improved. Testa, appearing at just the right moments, manipulates everyone in this comic plot overloaded with predictability and an ending slightly linked to the Greek myth of Atalanta who lost her race because of a trick by Aphrodite.
John Lee Beatty designed a neatly-staged office for Barry and adorned several areas of Atalanta's luxurious home with statues, carved furniture and greenery. Besides a stylish wardrobe for Atalanta, Long designed cute bikinis and a smashing black-and-white mini for Patti. He put Barry in bold blue and Freddie is perfectly imperfect in a not-quite-stylish new suit. All the clothes define their characters, as they should. Obeadiah Eaves provides sound and original music, gleefully adapted by Mrs. Dragonetti so she can exit the stage dancing to Greek bouzouki melodies. Director Shanley keeps the energy fast and loud.
The cast is enthusiastic, the production values are stellar and there are more than a few laughs but as for the book, we have come to expect something more solid from John Patrick Shanley.The Portuguese Kid
MTC City Center Stage 1
131 West 55th Street, NYC
Previews: Sept. 19, 2017. Opening: Oct. 24, 2017. Closing: Dec. 3, 2017http://theportuguesekid.com
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes with no intermission
Cast: Jason Alexander (Barry Dragonetti), Sherie Rene Scott (Atalanta Lagana), Mary Testa (Mrs. Dagonetti), Pico Alexander(Rreddie Imbrosi), Aimee Carrero (Patty Dragonetti).
Written: John Patrick Shanley
Directed: John Patrick Shanley
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Also available on TotalTheater.com