WP Theater and The Bushwick Starr in association with New Georges present [PORTO] by Kate Benson. Following the structure of a romantic comedy, Kate Benson delivers a typical narrative with jaded characters in this dry, self-aware play. Director Lee Sunday Evans takes care with the ironic tone by telling the story with unique pictures.
Porto (Julia Sirna-Frest) hangs out at her usual “boushy” bar with the typical bar flies. Her attractive and won’t-eat-enough friend, Dry Sac (Leah Karpel), complains drunkenly about things that are hard to care about unless they happen to you. The moody and silent type, Doug the Bartender (Noel Joseph Allain) has an edgy rapport with all the regulars. Raphael the Waiter (Ugo Chukwu) is friendly and warm, and in search of an intelligent and witty woman. Hennepin (Jorge Cordova) is an average sort of guy, who has a lot in common with Porto. As they move through the “we met at a bar and I didn’t think I liked him/her much at first” storyline, the characters are at the mercy of the omniscient narrator (Kate Benson), who also plays the role of argumentative inner voice.The play asks the question, “If you know how it’s made, would you still eat it?” This question is encapsulated in the metaphor of sausage and the meat industry, but it is applied to romantic relationships. We know all the cruelty and pain that goes into making sausage (and other meats) – that doesn’t make us want to eat it less – just as we know the emotional risks that are involved in pursuing and creating romantic relationships, but that doesn’t make us want them less.
Kate Benson brilliantly crafts this theme into a story about a woman who desires romance, but who has also come to terms with being alone. There are several poignant moments that call out the ridiculous and occasionally contradictory things women are advised to do when seeking a heterosexual relationship. This manifests in the Dumb Bunny Chorus and cameos of Gloria Steinem and Simone De Beauvior – which, because they are performed in drag, adds an extra element of satire and irony.Kate Marvin’s preshow music is delightful! The diverse selection feels like a “boushy” Brooklyn bar in a neighborhood on the verge of gentrification. The scenic design by Kristen Robinson offers a fresh perspective of two common play settings – the bar and the apartment. Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting design is simple and elegant. Together the elements of design capture and create the gentle yet sharp mood and tone of the work.
As the omniscient narrator, Kate Benson’s voice is delicious. The bodiless voice in the dark is appealing and satisfying; her word choice is juicy and the auditory effect of those words moves the story along like poetry. Her narration often embodies the thoughts and musings manifested by everyday fatigue as weary feet carry one home.The actors are fun to watch. Noel Joseph Allain and Ugo Chukwu are particularly good at maintaining cool faces, capturing both the aloof, informed hipster and the warm romantic. They are at their best when they play Gloria and Simone. While I don’t love the fact that two men are telling a woman how to be a feminist, the scene feels in tune with the mood of the piece, and it also the opposite of the scene with the Dumb Bunny Chorus. As a twisted stock best friend, Leah Karpel is comically devious and Jorge Cordova makes Hennepin socially awkward but accessible. Julia Sirna-Frest’s compassionate portrayal of a strong woman – the fearful, insecure woman that every woman is, has been or will be – resonates with the complex image of femaleness in the present social moment.
[PORTO] is entertaining and engaging on social, emotional and intellectual levels. Watching actors move on stage, responding and reacting to a bodiless voice that is sometimes gentle, mostly longwinded and decidedly pointed is gratifying. It is especially satisfying when a play enthusiastically advocates, “Just go for it!”
[PORTO], WP Theater with The Bushwick Starr, 2162 Broadway at 76th St. Closes February 25th.