by Cameron Ironside
When a character slams a book titled ‘Infinite Jest’ onto a bar early into Lisa Louttit’s “one-act play” Porto, one could be forgiven for expecting a relentless theatrical comedy. But like a concealed layer, there is a good amount of existential angst bubbling beneath the surface of Kate Benson’s script. Taking place almost entirely in a bar, this bubbling layer is like one of the available platters, full of sausage and cheese, served with a side glass of jaded hipster.
Porto is a comedy-drama about attaining happiness in contemporary life. The play starts with a familiar scene, characters mingle in a bar like “molecules in the ocean”. Local theatre identity Joe Lui hovers above the setting in red and black attire, playing the role of a narrator. Throughout the play he makes funny observations on the central character, Porto (Alicia Osyka), who surprisingly takes a back seat for much of the early piece. Nearby, male characters fawn over a drunken girl that falls down as Porto bemoans why the “fat girl” never ends up with the handsome guy.
Porto is suffering a midlife crisis. Is it possible to fall in love again after heartbreak? Finding herself stuck, Porto longs for happiness in a complex and shifting world. There is a universal appeal to Porto, who could represent any social misfit playing by their own rules. Porto explores a number of essential issues to do with social rituals, especially the theme of alienation. Men have trouble approaching Porto because they don’t understand the complex words she uses. If there is a criticism, it is that Porto is so familiar that it often feels like a narrated version of a night out with old friends. But that description would not do Porto justice. The play unfolds through a combination of naturalistic and experimental techniques that keeps the audience fully engaged despite its largely conventional production.
Porto isn’t traditional theatre. At times, Porto makes use of the distancing or alienation effect, similar to Brecht. The narrative flow of the play is interrupted by a number of skits and outtakes, including an especially funny one involving rabbits. It is an anti-illusionist technique that distances the audience from the reality of the play. This is a meta-theatrical device traditionally used to help audiences engage with complex concepts. Porto dabbles in this distancing effect without traversing the absurd.
In the end, Porto shows us that the nondescript guy in the bar, reading a book, could just be your long lost soulmate. But that wouldn’t really be the message of Porto. Porto is a good play, although its sweet melancholy can’t always be made sense of. It is a cute little production that will leave you smiling if nothing else. Another glass of jaded hipster please. Have a drink while you still can.
Porto plays until November 5th.