Gary Portenza: Apologies in Advance

By Elyce Phillips 

I have some distressing news, friends. Dr Professor Neal Portenza has passed away, and now his evil twin brother Gary Portenza (Joshua Ladgrove) must conduct his funeral. It is a fitting service, as anxiety-inducing and refreshingly baffling as Portenza shows of the past. But where Neal’s chaos was an oddly joyful affair, Gary’s mania is darker and more unsettling.

From the very outset, this show radiates instability. At the door we are warned by tech Nathan that this is the first time the show has been put together and that it might be a bit rough. Once inside, after some opening stumbles, Gary leads us through the program – from the traditional blessing, to a celebration of Neal’s favourite football team, to a reading from a selection of Neal’s questionable spec scripts of popular sitcoms. Sound and lighting cues fail. Readings are misread. Props fall apart. Nothing quite goes to plan, but perhaps that is the plan. All through the show one question plagues you – is Gary truly not ready for the big leagues of hosting an hour-long funeral, or is it all a work of demented genius?

It’s impossible to know exactly how much of the haphazardry was part of the act. In some moments, such as a very funny prayer involving some flamboyant incense, Portenza made no attempt to disguise his appetite for self-sabotage. At others, however, you were left wondering whether things truly were being rushed along due to time constraints, or falling apart in unexpected ways. Either way, ‘Apologies in Advance’ was a weird and entertaining hour. For every moment you’re not laughing, you’re experiencing anticipation, anxiety, confusion, something. Anything but boredom. Gary Portenza doesn’t let you get complacent.

This isn’t a show for the feint-hearted. This isn’t comfortable comedy. As the synopsis in the guide says, you have been warned.

Gary Portenza: Apologies in Advance is on at The Jackal – Tuxedo Cat until October 5