Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Theatre: [PORTO] (★★★★)

Joe Lui and Alicia Osyka
by Kate Benson
Directed by Lisa Louttit
Designed by Sara Chirichilli
Lighting designer Karen Cook
Sound designer Joe Lui
Performed by Joe Lui, Alicia Osyka, James Marzec, Taryn Ryan, Nick Pages-Oliver and Tristan McInnes
Blue Room Theatre
Until November 5

Porto (Alicia Osyka) spends this evening, as she does most others, in the local Brooklyn bar where she is routinely fed, watered, teased and propped up by the bartender, Doug (James Marzec) and the waiter Raphael (Nick Pages-Oliver). Another regular, Dry Sac (Taryn Ryan), “the hottest woman you’ve ever laid eyes on”, slinks in wearing a dress made of what seems to be paint. (There are very specific character descriptions and stage directions in the American playwright Kate Benson’s text – more on that shortly.)
There’s the usual banter between people who know – though perhaps not well, and are comfortable with, one another. There’s food talk, booze talk, the faintly conspiratorial tone of American bars since prohibition; if the cops burst in, blackjack tables and drinks would disappear and Dry Sac would flutter her eyelashes as though butter wouldn’t melt – although, in her case, at least, it would sizzle.  
Into this cosy mix comes Hennepin (Tristan McInnes), “some version of a Hot Guy”, with a copy of the extravagantly-mourned David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest under his arm.  He stirs the joint, and especially Porto, up a bit. Some things happen, but nothing much more than you’d expect over the course of a boozy few days in and around a bar. Certainly, there’s nothing justifies a plot summary, or a spoiler alert, from me.
This narrative inconsequentiality means Benson can throw everything she’s got at the characters and their milieu, which she does with great erudition and bravado. [PORTO] gallops along, casting theatrical daring and cultural references from its hooves like broken turf.

There’s a fantastic torrent of language; sometimes [PORTO] sounds like Ira Glass, sometimes Jonathan Franzen or Tom Waits’s Putnam County. There are interventions; from a puppet chorus of dumb bunnies, from Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem – but mostly from Joe Lui.
He plays [ ], who Benson describes as “a lesser God, or a person of many genders who owns a bar”, which is not a bad description of Lui himself. Adorned in Oriental splendour, working the mike from his podium like Steve Tyler, he barks direction and calls lighting cues – holding the action up until they are followed – announces impending entrances and sets scenes. It’s as specific as Beckett. Lui is part of Benson’s text, rather than a character, and, as always, he’s fabulous.
The cast is maneuvered through Benson’s text, Sara Chirichilli’s tidy, intimate set, Karen Cook’s witty lighting and the ubiquitous Lui’s sound, with great skill by director Lisa Louttit, a recent arrival here from them beleaguered States.
Marzec and Pages-Oliver are tons of fun behind the bar, Ryan is extremely deluxe and delightful, and McInnes has come on in leaps and bounds since his last play, Tank (which, busily, is running on the same nights as this one).
Osyka is such a fine, natural actor that you often wonder whether she’s doing it at all. Her Porto is absolutely believable, absolutely here, in our world. We know her, and through her, we know her play.
[PORTO] makes some points in the great American tradition of self-excoriation, some a little too often and earnestly, but that’s a very small price to pay, and a very little while to wait, to enjoy its very many rewards.

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