WHAT “The Portuguese Kid”
WHERE City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th St., Manhattan
INFO $90-$100, 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org
BOTTOM LINE The battle of the sexes, one more time.
In Greek mythology, the princess Atalanta sent many men to their deaths, simply because they couldn’t beat her in a race. In the world premiere of John Patrick Shanley’s new play, “The Portuguese Kid,” Atalanta (Sherie Rene Scott, all sizzle and sex appeal) has already been through two husbands when we meet her in the offices of Barry Dragonetti (the always funny Jason Alexander), a low-rent lawyer in Providence, Rhode Island, whom she has known all her life.
“Oil and water,” Barry says of their relationship, but really he’s talking about a much bigger picture — the eternal and ongoing battle of the sexes. Atalanta, in a skintight black dress and stilettos (costumes by William Ivey Long) that suggest she’s well over the mourning period, has come to enlist Barry’s help in settling her latest late husband’s affairs. But perhaps it’s another kind of affair she’s interested in. That’s not immediately apparent, though, what with the insults that furiously fly between the two. Joining the fray is Barry’s mother (Mary Testa, in a frumpy wig and blue eye shadow you can’t miss from the back row) who has some long-standing issues with Atalanta.
As Barry, Alexander is the kind of neurotic, insecure guy who forces comparisons with his best-known character, George Costanza on “Seinfeld.” He’s gotten himself into quite the love quartet — married to a much younger woman (Aimee Carrero), who was dumped by the sexy but none-too-bright Italian guy (Pico Alexander), who is now dating Atalanta. As for the Portuguese kid, the title character never appears. Shanley, who also directed, writes him as a young punk who mugged Barry when he was 15, an attack that Atalanta stopped by cracking a bottle over his head. Barry, somewhat emasculated by that event, calls it “the worst moment of my life.” Atalanta righteously counters: “Well, it was the best moment of mine.”
Part farce, part rom-com, the occasionally funny but ultimately trivial play moves from run-of-the mill law office to Barry’s beach house, to Atalanta’s blue-on-blue bedroom and overly ornate backyard (sets by John Lee Beatty), but doesn’t really go anywhere that’s not completely predictable. Unless you count the jarring intrusion of the political. Atalanta is none too fond of our sitting president, demanding to know who voted for him and describing him in nasty, unflattering terms. Did Shanley (the Tony-winning “Doubt” and Oscar-winning “Moonstruck”) really need to go there?