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Available Light’s Hilarious, Rapturous [Porto]

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Available Light’s Hilarious, Rapturous [Porto]Brian Gray and Elena M. Perantoni in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.
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Available Light starts their 2018-19 season with a sweet, subtle explosion. Their production of Kate Benson’s Off-Broadway hit [Porto] directed by Eleni Papaleonardos is a distillation of everything wonderful this company has brought to Columbus stages and the rare piece of art that leaves the viewer more hopeful for the world than when we walked in.

Adam Humphrey (and Michelle Wesier) in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

Adam Humphrey (and Michelle Wesier) in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

Adam Humprey in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

Adam Humprey in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

Elena M. Perantoni and Michelle Weiser in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

Elena M. Perantoni and Michelle Weiser in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

[Porto] centers on a corner bar in a gentrifying neighborhood in a large American city. Michelle Weiser is the eponymous main character, wryly observing everything around her but unsettled by thoughts she’s treading water or, worse, settling. Elena Perantoni is Porto’s best friend, Dry Sac, stumbling through tumultuous drama (we see her fall off a barstool at least twice in the first twenty minutes she’s on stage) even as her intellect and charm shine through.

Jason Kientz is Hennepin, a new regular at the bar, taking teasing in reasonable humor but never quite passing the “douchey” test it’s said aloud he’s being subjected to. Conducting the action is Doug the Bartender (Brian Gray), with his foil, the ever-hopeful Raphael the Water (Adam Humphrey). Kara Jobe and Dakota Thorn are The Chorus of Dumb Bunnies, racking up big laughs as the judgmental, non-fun parts of Porto’s id. Tying everything together is Epiphany Pope’s “[],” a sardonic, aggressively not impartial narrator.

[Porto] handles the commingling of the voice of an objective God/universe/whatever and the voice in the main character’s head better than any play I can think of. That symbiosis between Papaleonardos’ direction, Pope’s acid-tipped voice work, and Weiser’s deep empathy is dazzling, surprising, and wonderful. Keya Myers Alkire’s sound work and Carrie Cox’s lighting immeasurably aid those shifts in mood and tone. It gains our trust in the intro, a long recitation digging into how sausage, literally, is made, across a dark stage and never breaks that covenant with the audience.

Dakota Thorn, Michelle Weiser, and Kara Jobe in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

Dakota Thorn, Michelle Weiser, and Kara Jobe in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

The human interaction is top notch and keeps the production from being a memory play or just an exercise in psychology. Weiser has a role for the ages and she gives the character of Porto the heartbreaking, edge-of-your-seat virtuosity it needs. Her affectionate, taking-no-grief friendship with Dry Sac has the air of the real and the color palette of myth. Perantoni gets to lean into her finely tuned physical comedy chops and radiating charisma in a way few roles have afforded her of late and her pinballing back and forth between Weiser and Gray is a hilarious delight. Kientz doesn’t have as much to do, but he shades his character so by the end of the play I didn’t feel as though I’d seen it all.

Gray’s bartender is every bartender anyone who’s ever been a regular or semi-regular at a neighborhood bar has relished in winning over. He knows he has to set the rules of engagement and he knows which customers he wants coming back and which he’s not sure about yet. It’s a performance as calibrated to the smallest gesture as a fine watch and it’s mesmerizing. Humphrey does something subtler and very endearing as Raphael the waiter. These two also produce fireworks in a late-play fantasia as Simone de Beauvoir and Gloria Steinem. Jobe and Thorn are a dynamite comedy team and crackerjack Greek chorus for an Instagram age.

Jason Kientz and Brian Gray in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

Jason Kientz and Brian Gray in [PORTO]. Photo by Matt Slaybaugh.

[Porto] grapples with the difficulty of connecting with others and the difficulty of doing the right thing. It wraps the deepest existential questions we face as humans in this unsteady, unstable age in a lot of laughs and an incredible amount of warmth. It might send you out into the night feeling like you’ve taken deep breaths of fresh air for the first time in a while. It will send you into the night glad you spent 90 minutes in that room with those people.

[Porto] runs through September 29 with performances at 8:00 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For tickets and more info, please visit avltheatre.com.

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