The Kardashians have it coiffed, the Brady’s have it blonde and the Ferreira’s have it everywhere – hair–the pride of the Portuguese and just one of the many cultural idiosyncrasies that are lauded, laughed at and lip-waxed in “Porra’Licious”, Sonia Esgueira’s inimitable, intrepid and thoroughly impressive one-woman play.
Donning all five hats of her familial fabrications, Esgueira dances through ditzy, chauvinistic, elderly and parental in such sage switch of voices and characters that if one hadn’t been laughing so uproariously, they would most assuredly have called an exorcist.
Playful possession aside and truth be told, those who did not witness this farcical family in action at the 99fm Playhouse Theatre last week would have missed the finalé in a Portuguese trilogy that has had “porras” and “padeces” in homely hysterics for the past six years and with good reason. Though critics may slam Ferreira’s cultural clichés of the catholic, cafe-owning, constantly cussing and cunning Portuguese, Esgueira’s conception of this zany family is a far cry from any presentation one has ever seen.
Clad simply in jeans and a T-shirt, Esgueira’s subtle yet distinguishing hand gestures, vivid vocal talent and Chorizo flavoured charm are all she had, to distinguish one character from the next and viewers were forgiven for thinking they were being entertained by five different actors once privy to her unintelligible transitions. Focusing the attention even more firmly on Esgueira, was her use of a minimalistic set, which wasn’t much more than two steel boxes and a low cupboard, which doubled as granny’s bed, the parent’s couch and a cupboard, bath and shop counter respectively; all of which were used deftly and decisively under the direction of Heinrich Reisenhofer.
The play begins with a distraught Paula peeing on a stick and in this particular personification, Esgueira is nothing less than the pretty, pouty young Portuguese woman one may or may not have encountered at one’s local corner café. After testing pregnant and in a declaration indicative of the type of crass, clever and comical one-liners that colour the entire play, a panicking Paula admits that while she is a total sex-bomb, she “likes the sex and not the bomb,” while gesturing wildly at her soon to be burgeoning belly.
Her brother, Rui is not to be outdone when it comes to hilarity and can be found discussing his man bits as well as Gerda, his true Afrikaans love, through much of the play. Perhaps in her second best characterisation, Rui is the sum total of a knowing smile, a bow-legged walk, a vulgar voice and a comically manly swagger, which completely vanishes Paula and leaves Esgueira in the mould of reluctantly metro-sexual man that had the audience in stitches. Finally succumbing to a self-described “back, sack and crack wax”, Rui was the character who the audience loved to hate in his transition from a manly man to a metro-sexual; all in the quest for love.
While Mr and Mrs Ferreira, off and away in Madeira, are certainly entertaining to watch, the show is stolen time and time again by granny Maria Ferreira. In the old coot mode of literary fame, Granny Ferreira is a bed-pan requesting, pregnancy test-licking, homesick old woman whose seemingly vitriolic bursts of Portuguese, spouted as she either madly or mischievously pushes her walker across the stage, are nothing less than side-splittingly funny; whether you understand what she is saying or not. A triumph of elderly observation and depiction, Granny Ferreira is Esgueira’s theatrical masterpiece and is as frightening as she is fabulous.
Though fast-paced and fun, Porra’Licious is not without a narrative and tells the tale of a family facing issues of faith, arranged marriage, loss, homesickness as well as the challenges of living as a migrant most succinctly conveyed in Mr Ferreira’s declaration of “once an immigrant, always an immigrant.” Poignant at times and a bubbling burst of laughter at others, Porra’Licious is more than just a comedy as it is, in fact, a celebration of family as a warring, wonderful and wise thing.