The Portal presents an otherworldly experience which is not set in any specific time or place. The show is comprised of two different aspects. The first is a montage/movie that is projected onto a screen upstage, which tells the indistinct story of Dante (Christopher Soren Kelly), an unhappy urbanite with a tortured soul. Kelly’s digital counterpart is the vessel through which the journey for enlightenment is supposedly told, but a major issue is the impossible task of empathizing with a nondescript wash of a character.
A series of bizarre projections are shown on stage throughout the entire production, which show our anti-hero confronting obstacles that metaphorically translate to parts of a past for which he still holds resentment–Dante encounters himself as a child, then his mother, and even a mysterious man in a black cloak with whom he engages in battle. Each signifies a different step in his journey to enlightenment, in whatever form that happens to be. These small roadblocks are meant to be significant and riveting, but with very little frame of reference to Dante’s past, none of it comes to mean anything in the end.
While the visual aid is being projected in the background, a rock concert/spectacle is taking place on stage in front of the screen, and this is–thankfully–more interesting that the latter content. Billy Lewis Jr. is the physical manifestation of Kelly’s Dante; a rock star whose belting is a metaphorical echo of his counterpart’s internal strife. Lewis Jr. is a natural at singing rock music, and his vocal prowess is a saving grace for the production.
Referred to as the “Frontman,” Lewis Jr.’s vocals (all but two original compositions written by Tierro Lee) are accompanied by a band of other performers and musicians which brings to life the music coming forth from Dante’s soul. Paul Casanova, the guitarist, sends out shrill and piercing guitar solos throughout the house, which round out the alt-rock vibe behind the vocals. Backing up the guitar and vocals is Gilly Gonzalez, a stylized and skilled percussionist whose drumming gives the show’s score a welcome element of tribalism.
While Lewis and Co. are lighting up the stage with their electric orchestra, two dancers–Jessica Aronoff and Nicole Spencer–perform ritualistic and interpretive dancing which is, frankly, the show’s biggest selling point. The duo of Aronoff and Spencer–who are both electric on stage in different ways–perform with passion, precision, and the most commitment out of all the other performers.
Despite a lack of clarity and heart, Luke Comer’s The Portal is certainly a triumph over the performing arts. The show is very much a spectacle, with intricate lighting and sound design (Traci Klainer Polimeni and Peter Fitzgerald, respectively) woven into the entire production. The costume design by Liene Dobraja is appropriately mystical, and Jessica Chen’s choreography is behind the physically demanding and impressive performances turned over by her dancers.
Luke Comer’s The Portal misses the eight-ball on the profound evening of enlightenment it promises, but the powerful performances delivered by the show’s musicians and performers make this spectacle well worth it in the end.
The Portal (through December 31, 2016)
Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 1-800-982-2787 or visit http://www.theportalnyc.com
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission