Published: October 16th, 2018
“Don’t try to know so much.” The line was spoken to a character in the play, but it might as well have been aimed directly at the audience, because [PORTO] left little to be known.
Obie award-winner Kate Benson’s [PORTO] opened in the new Leonard and Claire Tow Performing Arts Center on Friday, Oct. 5 – the first show of Brooklyn College’s Fall 2018 season– which will be dedicated to plays written by alumni from the school’s MFA playwriting program. [PORTO] “addresses modern ennui with feminist discourse and literal icons. But can Porto take risks when she knows how the sausage is made?” Directed by Emily Edwards and starring a minimal cast of Sabra Shelly, Mariah Sanchez in the titular role, Valeri Matt Mozaidze, Gabriel O. Morales, Ahsan Ali, and Rae Mizrachi, [PORTO] serves up a flat, slow, oftentimes confusing, and altogether uninteresting show.
As the house lights dimmed and the audience held their breath in anticipation of the opening scene, they were instead met with continued darkness while the character, played by Sabra Shelly, delivered a lengthy monologue detailing the sausage making process. It was particularly graphic, evoking gag reflexes and queasiness, while also dripping in sexual undertones and insinuated innuendos. The energy or, more accurately, the lack thereof, in those first few minutes set the tone for the rest of the play– giving it little to work with.
When the lights brightened and the visual elements were introduced, the set design of the beloved bar in [PORTO]offered a small glimmer of hope and redemption for the already deficient show. Set designer Yang Yu’s bar was beautifully built, emitting a warm and inviting glow. Light shimmered off the bottles lining the shelves, and the wood details provided a rustic and homey feel. Beyond the bar, however, there was little that drew audience members in.
The few jokes within the show were crass, tasteless, and immature, relying heavily on the assumption that the audience possessed an affinity for cheap, overused, and obtuse sexual humor. The plot was perplexing, utilizing abstract and inferable methods that only weakened the story instead of making it stronger and deeper.
In spite of this, two bright spots existed in the show. The first, a seemingly arbitrary “Chorus of Dumb Bunnies” who, while hopping around on stage in a loosely coordinated cluster and costumes reminiscent of oversized paper lanterns, teased, taunted, and taught Porto about “what you need to get a man.” And though their appearance made little sense and only added to the already confusing progression of the play, they were a welcomed respite from the stagnancy.
The second was Ahsan Ali’s effervescent yet humble performance as Raphael the Waiter. With a passionate, energetic, nuanced, and charming exhibition of his talents, Ali delivered the few well written and genuinely funny lines in the show; he topped them off with an endearing monologue about “the girls who” and his desire to have one to love. As the show dragged on, I found myself more intrigued with the charismatic Raphael and wishing the entire play could have been about him instead.
The rest of the play’s cast gave somewhat passable performances, attempting to create something enticing, relatable, and thought-provoking but falling short due to their glaring lack of chemistry, low energy, and ultimately unconvincing portrayals of complex human beings.
The play’s proclaimed “feminist” themes and tones were also unconvincing. Instead of a fierce and unapologetic anthem of female independence and confidence that the play had the potential to be, it left Porto succumbing to the influences of the first male who paid her any attention. Her attitudes, thoughts, and actions all negated any declaration of feminism and contrarily left the audience with a dismal and depressing view of life and its many entanglements. After an hour and a half of scattered and directionless meandering, the play hastily tied up its loose ends, using poorly chosen tropes with no true resolution or satisfaction.
[PORTO] was not the victory it was claiming and hoping to be. It attempted many things, but succeeded in only a few with its main achievement being evoking utter relief from the audience when it was finally over.