REVIEW: “The Portuguese Kid”—John Patrick Shanley’s Neil Simon
It’s the women vs. the men in “The Portuguese Kid”, a delightful new comedy written and directed by John Patrick Shanley (“Doubt”, “Moonstruck”), which opened tonight at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I. And the women are winning. By a lot.
Starring Jason Alexander (“Seinfeld”), Sherie Rene Scott (“Everyday Rapture”), and Mary Testa (“Queen of the Mist”), “The Portuguese Kid” is set in Providence, Rhode Island and follows mediocre lawyer Barry Dragonetti’s (Alexander) tumultuous relationship with recently de-licensed real estate agent Atalanta Lagana (Scott). Friends from childhood, although they’ve never done it, she can’t help but scream his name in the bedroom, which ticked off her recently dead husband, Vincent—a podiatrist—who may have exacted his revenge on their matchmaker Mrs. Dragonetti (Testa), Barry’s mom and office receptionist, by amputating a toe.
Middle-aged, bald Barry is newly married to 29-year old Patty who used to go with the hunky Freddie, who is now shacking up with the busty, 50-year old Atalanta, who clearly has her eyes on Barry as she seeks to settle her dead husband, Vincent’s estate. Barry is Sicilian. Mrs. Dragonetti Croat. Atalanta Greek. Patty Puerto Rican. And Freddie, the street corner poet, claims to be Italian but is accused of being Portuguese by Barry who holds a nonsensical grudge against the people stemming from a childhood robbery by a can opener wielding Portuguese kid.
If this sounds like a lot. It is. And it all works.
This is a play that feels like a play—the kind that writers don’t really write anymore. The costumes by William Ivey Long are costumes. The sets by John Lee Beatty are sets. The blocking boasts lots of accented standing, sitting, and bending. It’s John Patrick Shanley’s version of a Neil Simon relationship comedy; a silly romp with likable, quick-witted characters who have no real problems but for the ones they create for themselves, and each other, as drinks are poured and doors slammed. Decidedly more “Moonstruck” than “Doubt”.
Rooted in Greek mythology, with some thick allusions throughout, the men are fools and the women smart—and catty. The play features an ending you saw coming from the beginning, but the journey is no less fun as we see these zany, borderline-cartoonish characters through their hot-blooded mania. It offers a welcome divertissement from the terror of the daily news. And yet, even Donald J. Trump manages to slip into this play, fitting given its discourse on the nature of men and women, and real estate.
Atalanta despises Trump, and is on a mission to uncover which of the men in her life may have voted for him. I daren’t disclose here what she finds, but her quest lends the play—which is set “a few weeks ago”—a contemporary edge seemingly at odds with its old-fashioned form. And yet, again, it works.
Early in the play, as Atalanta and Mrs. Dragonetti trade barbs (that’s pretty much all Mrs. Dragonetti does through the four scenes of this one act play), Atalanta wins an argument, but Mrs. Dragonetti is quick to remind her that was only round one. And, indeed, so many more rounds follow in this battle of the sexes showdown of ethnic personalities. I hope Neil Simon pays a visit.
Bottom Line: “The Portuguese Kid” is a fun and funny relationship comedy that borrows an old formula, and yet flashes an au courant bend. Not everything needs to be Greek tragedy. This is one play you can sit back and enjoy.
“The Portuguese Kid”
Manhattan Theatre Club
at City Center Stage I
131 West 55th Street
New York, NY 10019
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes (no intermission)
Opening Night: October 24, 2017
Final Performance: December 3, 2017