To be honest, the only reason I find myself at MTC’s The Portuguese Kid, besides the generosity of those press people at BBB, is that I just adore Sherie Rene Scott. Plain and simple. From the moment I first saw her in the Tony, Drama Desk, and Lortel nominated Everyday Rapture which ran Off-Broadway in 2009 and on Broadway in 2010, I knew I was witnessing someone special. With a book written by Scott and Dick Scanlan, with music by various composers, the musical (click here for a video from the show) soared on her blond bombshell wings, and I have followed this talented lady ever since. I wish I had seen her in 2002 at the Off-Broadway Minetta Lane Theatre in The Last Five Years (Drama Desk nomination). I hear tales of how wonderful she was, and the film version (which she was an executive producer), starring the wonderful Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan simply paled in comparison, I am told, to Scott’s portrayal with Norbert Leo Butz. No shame on Kendrick and Jordan though, the bar was set very high. Scott also stormed the stage as Sally Simpson in Tommy (1993), Marty in Grease (1995–96), Maureen in Rent (1997). Thrilling audiences in 2000’s Elton John and Tim Rice‘s Aida (winning the Clarence Derwent Award for Most Promising Female), 2005’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Drama Desk, Outer Critics nomination), and I would have even seen her in the 2008 The Little Mermaid (Outer Critics nomination) had I known about her wonder. I did get to see her light fire to the stage as Pepa in the musical adaptation of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (which costarred Laura Benanti and my all time favorite, Patti LuPone), and although the production lacked, the ladies on the verge did not. The talent exhibited was palpable.
Her play, Whorl Inside A Loop, which she wrote once again with Scanlan, cemented her place in this theatre-junkie’s heart as not only a fireball of a performer, but an incredible writing talent as well. That play floored me with its layered meta-storytelling and honest and brave depiction of, basically, herself. I wish I could say the same thing about this play that I seem to be taking forever to write about, The Portuguese Kid, by Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize, and Oscar winner John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Outside Mullingar). With all the talent piled onto that beautifully designed set by the exacting creative genius, John Lee Beatty (MTC’s Venus In Fur, Other Desert Cities) and his cohorts: lighting designer, Peter Kaczorowski (MTC’s My Mother’s Brief Affair), original music and sound design by Obadiah Eaves (Broadway’s Harvey), and costumes most festively and seductively designed by the legendary William Ivey Long (MTC’s Prince of Broadway), this play should have roared loud and clear through the New York City Center’s Stage I Theater. Instead, it just pleasantly arrived, like a nice snappy bottle of rosé brought by an amusing but slightly bland guest to an outdoor luncheon in your backyard. That guest has nothing too spectacular or special to say, nor are their stories it too provocative or hilarious, not strong like a good martini or fiery like a good shot of mescal. But, like that luncheon would end up being, this play is enjoyable and brings a sweet smile to your face for the duration, but ultimately you leave with a bit of a headache and still hungry for more.
The first scene is by far the wittiest and most fun. A very fine and in-his-element Jason Alexander (original cast of Broadway’s Merrily We Roll Along, TV’s “Seinfeld“) is Barry Dragonetti, a lawyer trading barbs and fantastic one-liners with newly widowed and hungover Atalanta Lagana, perfectly portrayed by the gorgeous Sherie Rene Scott, looking spectacular in her mourning attire. They share some funny interactive moments and Scott brings excitement and chemistry whenever she enters. And then, much to my amazement, in walks Mary Teste as Barry’s fierce mother and Atalanta’s stormy equal. She is the spicy tequila shot battling it out with Scott’s sassy dirty martini for dominance. Tequila, they say, is a stimulant, and Teste, most magnificent in the recent The Government Inspector (with the always adorable and funny Michael Urie), certainly brings spark and excitement to the luncheon table every time she arrives on stage. Which drink is the strongest? I’m not sure, it all depends on who’s making the drinks, I guess.
The other two players, the stunning and funny Aimee Carrero (Freeform’s “Young and Hungry“) as Barry’s young new wife, Patty, and the handsome young stud, Pico Alexander (MCC’s Punk Rock) as Atalanta’s new and Patty’s old love interest, bring a tremendous amount of bubbly to the table, but in many ways, bubbly can’t compete with hard liquor, and the play ultimately lets them down. Shanley doesn’t take full advantage of these two sexually-charged creatures, leaving them to fend for themselves in a play that loses itself in the backyard.
As directed with a fiery wit and unflailing energy by the playwright, The Portuguese Kid has a great deal of fun with the Greek mythology surrounding the princess Atalanta, who was uninterested in marriage but plagued by suitors. Many men died trying to be with her until one suitor distracts her with three irresistible golden apples, winning her hand and her heart in the race to the finish line. I just wish the adrenaline of that race was infused in the beverages served here. It’s a playful luncheon, but one that leaves you half-full dining on mediocre fish, and only enjoyable if you’ve had a few strong drinks. Shanley should have done better, foregoing the Portuguese, focusing his eye on the Greek princess, and serving up a spicier and meatier main dish to go with those feisty cocktails. And then all of this would have been something to remember. But for now, I’ll just watch some Sherie Rene Scott YouTube videos (with the amazing Lindsay Mendez & Betsy Wolfe), and go “Up The Ladder to the Moon” with them there. A much more satisfying meal.
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