Review by Cicely Binford
Director Lisa Louttit brings [PORTO] by Kate Benson across the pond from New York to The Blue Room stage. For her first directorial outing in Perth, Louttit has gathered a team of the best of independent theatre’s many intersecting circles, and she herself steps confidently into the mix. [PORTO] is a surrealist sausage served up with a slice of hipster life, and it makes a pretty good meal.
Joe Lui steps onto a dais, steps up to a mic and steps into the character of ; he’s here to direct us into the life of Porto (Alicia Osyka), a single woman who stops into her local small bar on a regular basis to read a book with her favourite red in hand. We meet the characters that co-inhabit this small bar, where, like in ‘Cheers,’ everybody knows Porto’s name: Doug the Bartender (James Marzec) knows her favourite red, Raphael the Waiter (Nick Pages-Oliver) always keeps her food warm for her, while the stool next to her is always warmed by her friend Dry Sac (Taryn Ryan). A new guy, Hennepin (Tristan McInnes) wanders in from the cold with a copy of Infinite Jest under his arm, and thus the little bar’s (and Porto’s) sedate equilibrium gets a good wobbling.
Not too much happens in the script, just a simple old boy-meets-girl plot suffices, but that’s enough to carry these six characters in search of partners. Lui as the omniscient , always on his dais, seems to have the power to dip in and out of the world of the story as he pleases. He speaks directly to characters, gives the stage manager directions, talks to us, and in a couple of bizarre asides, tells us ‘how the sausage is made’: his opening monologue is a detailed description of how to slaughter and eviscerate a pig, and turn its insides into something to eat. Not a pretty picture, but surely a metaphor for something – expectation vs. outcome, perhaps? In any case, vegans, be warned.
The intricacies of urban life are stitched into the script with care; the cast inhabit these characters thoroughly and then give them unique flourishes to make them their own. Marzec as the insufferable foodie bartender gives us just a hint of Christian Bale’s ‘Patrick Bateman,’ Pages-Oliver has an easy winsome charm that gets you immediately on his side, Ryan’s drunken antics stumble along the border between embarrassing and cute, McInnes seems like a nice, smart kind of guy in whose hands we can entrust the heart of our girl Porto.
It is Porto’s story, after all, and without the right Porto, we might wonder why we’re watching this odd jumble of personalities banter over pickled pomegranate seeds and hasenpfeffer. There can be no doubt that Osyka is the right Porto, a postmodern ‘everywoman’ doing her best to listen to her inner feminist while also giving into her desire for companionship. Osyka is one of those naturally open performers whose thoughts we can read without her ever having to speak a word. Porto goes through a range of reactions and emotions in her story, and Osyka lets us in on it all. She’s wonderfully unassuming as the main character, and if this were a Netflix original, I would pay for a subscription just to watch Osyka live out Porto’s small failures and triumphs.
While [PORTO] has American roots and is told with American accents (barring one scene with a dreadfully silly French accent by Pages-Oliver), its commentary on modern life will be familiar to Perth city-dwellers. Grab yourself a jam jar cocktail and a bacon-wrapped donut from somewhere on William before the show and enjoy.
[PORTO] runs at the Blue Room until 5 November. For more information and tickets, visit the Blue Room website here.