November 18, 2017

"The Portuguese Kid" is Totally Juvenile

Nobody bats a thousand. It's unfair of us theater lovers to expect our favorite writers and directors to knock one out of the park (last sports metaphor, I promise) each time they come up with a new show. And it's commendable when a theater company sticks with a playwright through the ups and downs that come with any theatrical career. 

So I suppose I should be more gracious toward The Portuguese Kid, the new comedy by John Patrick Shanley that is being given the most supportive production possible by Manhattan Theatre Club, which has been producing Shanley's work since 1986. But I can't be: it's an awfully disappointing show.

As if paying homage to his own Oscar-winning movie "Moonstruck," Shanley, who is also the author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning Doubt, has written (and, compounding the problem, directed) a romantic comedy about people who have settled for relationships of convenience although their passions clearly lie with someone else.

As in the movie, the central character in the play is an attractive and still randy widow, here named Atalanta Lagana. She's sleeping with a much younger dimwit named Freddie but truly longs for Barry, the childhood friend whom she once saved from being bullied by the titular but never seen Portuguese kid.

Barry, who is now the second-rate lawyer overseeing her late husband's estate, has the hots for Atalanta too but he is married to a Latina Barbie doll named Patty, who also happens to be Freddie's ex.

Sexual hijinks are supposed to ensue but what we get are lame jokes that lean heavily on the low humor of ethnic and gender stereotyping, lots of yelling and a few Trump references thrown in for good, or not so good, measure. 

Even a cast that includes such comic heavyweights as Sherrie Rene Scott, Jason Alexander (click here to read an interview with him) and the redoubtable Mary Testa as Barry's overbearing and overprotective mother can't get this one off the ground.

The true star of the production is John Lee Beatty's revolving set, which presents one faux-elegant setting after another and drew the loudest applause at the performance I attended and fidgeted my way through.

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