By Sandi Durell
It’s a battle of the sexes in John Patrick Shanley’s (Pulitzer Prize Doubt/Oscar Moonstruck) latest comedy about love, which he also directed at Manhattan Theater Club. The comedy is based somewhere on the Greek story of the Princess Atalanta who promises she’ll marry anyone who can outrun her, but no one can until goddess Aphrodite plays a trick on her. What makes it most intriguing is the line up of star power on that small stage. It’s silly, wacky but you gotta laugh even if you don’t want to! This is really far reaching for the likes of Shanley.
The play takes place in Providence, R.I. as the spicy, larger than life Greek widow Atalanta Lagana (a seductive, chic and delightful Sherie Rene Scott) comes calling on her old friend and lawyer Barry Dragonetti (Jason Alexander) to handle the estate of her second recently deceased foot surgeon husband (also long time friend of Barry), the dialog akin to some of the best comic timing written with oh so perfect setups. Sit-com anyone?
Barry, practically glowing in an electric blue suit on first meeting (thanks to William Ivey Long), is a combination of demure, pouty and gloomy, not Mr. Personality for sure, in response to the spitfire Atalanta who is filled with sexual excitement that Barry simply doesn’t get. That is, until she reveals her bedtime secrets that when she was having sex with her husband it was Barry’s name she called out. They argue and banter back and forth about him handling the sale of her home, worth somewhere around $5M; he asking for a discounted 5% commission, she offering 4 then 3 until Mama (who works at his office and listens at the door) enters the scene.
And, oh, what a Mama is Mrs. Dragonetti – the perfectly cast Mary Testa, who is like a drill sergeant filled with spit and vinegar, both defending and belittling her son … “He’s a lousy lawyer,” making sure that Atalanta doesn’t get her hooks into Barry with . . . “Take my advice. Get fat. Count your money. You’ve killed enough men.” But Atalanta, by no means meek and mild, verbally tells mama where to go and uses her feminine wiles with Barry looking for sympathy, now twice widowed . . . . “I don’t know who I am.”
Atalanta is also having an affair with her boy toy Freddie – Pico Alexander (now you have to follow this) who is the ex-boyfriend of Barry’s new wife Patty (a gorgeous piece of work Aimee Carrero) – viper Patty is more interested in whether they can reach the 30 day mark in their marriage so she’s entitled to 50% in case they divorce – Barry adamant she can’t have the house. And then there’s Mama of the expletives . . . always listening in making for more verbal dart throwing between the women.
A not too bright Freddie, who considers himself a poet, regales Atalanta with original material like “Your ass is like a wedding tent, billowing by the night time sea,” and later in his efforts to reunite with Patty, more poetry. Having been mentored by Atalanta (a real estate broker), and now newly licensed, he also has his eye on selling her large home and scoring a big commission.
What’s a comedy without politics in this present day? And so Trump is the card played just too many times as Atalanta becomes manic asking each who they voted for and if it’s Trump, well, she’s practically out of her mind. Nothing original here.
All the characters, sans Barry, sound like they were born and bred in the Bronx. . . just because. Scott plies her au natural comic abilities to perfection.
There’s nothing really going on in this plot making The Portuguese Kid just right for television. But it’s worth a try because the audience, on the whole, responds to a lot of the silliness and laughs out loud. Just what we need!
The turntable scenery creates an easy path in and through the war zones offering up four different sets, deftly created by John Lee Beatty, resourcefully lit by Peter Kaczorowski, with original Greek-like music and sound designed by Obadiah Eaves.
Photos: Richard Termine
The Portuguese Kid runs 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission) at Manhattan Theatre Club – Stage 1, 131 West 55 Street, thru December 3.