Head into ‘Porto’: Play about hipster barflies way better than you’d expect

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It’s a locally-sourced, artisanally made delight!

The new play “[Porto,]” now playing at the Bushwick Starr, has all of the elements that could make it an insufferable millennial romantic comedy. It is set in a mid-hyper-gentrification Brooklyn neighborhood, at a bar that used to be a medical supply store, lit by Edison bulbs and presided over by a foodie bartender with a neck tattoo who serves pickled pomegranates and bacon-wrapped foie gras, and who judges his customers’ orders. It could be, in playwright Kate Benson’s brilliant coinage, “boushy” — bourgeois, and also douchey. (Or even just straight-up douchey.)

Instead, it is witty, thoughtful, and sweet, an intimate charmer that knows it can’t avoid romantic comedy cliche entirely, and so embraces and repurposes the genre with clear-eyed affection for its characters, an eloquent narrator, a bracing dose of philosophy, and an occasional foray into the surreal.

The titular Porto (Julia Serna-Frest) is a classic rom-com sidekick: a zaftig woman with romantic disaster behind her, building her identity one solo drink at the neighborhood bar, one harmless flirtation with Raphael the waiter (Ugo Chukwu), and one good book (with a spare always in her bag) at a time.

Her friend Dry Sac (Leah Karpel) is the girl guys like: stunning, self-absorbed, more than a little obnoxious. Porto doesn’t want to be lonely, or afraid, but she is. Dry Sac probably doesn’t want to be annoying, but she is.

So when sexy bearded hipster Hennepin (Jorge Cordova) starts hanging out at the bar, the ensuing love triangle seems inevitable. Fortunately, “[Porto]” has a few more tricks up its sleeve.

It is a tightly structured play given its simplicity, with layered themes, well-managed tone shifts, and a rousing feminist debate over the soul of its heroine, along with an entertaining chorus of Dumb Bunnies — human-sized, male dumb bunnies.

Playwright Benson appears in the show as the “lesser god” who owns the bar and narrates the piece. She and director Lee Sunday Evans steer the cast through dangerous waters, avoiding both chirpy optimism and morose navel-gazing; offering grounded cynicism but not knee-jerk snark; and with a dash of whimsy without a hint of twee. This heartfelt show has some close shaves, but it makes the right call every time.

“[Porto]” at the Bushwick Starr [207 Starr St. between Wyckoff and Irving avenues in Bushwick,]. Wed–Sat at 8 pm through Feb. 4. $20.

Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Samir Kabir from downtown says:
Way better?
Jan. 27, 2017, 5:45 pm

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