Glowing superlatives cannot do proper justice to Pat Kinevane’s extraordinary work, Underneath. Written by the performer and directed by Jim Culleton of Fishamble: The New Play Company, the show is a solo performance by an actor of tremendous skill who connects with his audience in an intimate, personal way, chatting with randomly-selected members, mostly women, drawing them out and honoring their responses to his prompts with keen insight that moves the play along. He comes back to these three or four women throughout the ninety-minute piece as he reveals the life of a dead woman who crawls out of her Irish grave to relate the particulars of a life marred by the cruel accident of facial disfigurement.
Mr. Kinevane, as the unnamed woman, his face blackened and dressed mummy-like in black, decaying windings, crawls out of her crypt at the top of the show. The woman, as presented by Mr. Kinevane, is an essentially cheerful soul marred by the cruelty of others. As a child, a twist of fate made her so grotesque that she could find no way into the love and friendship of other children, so her early life was one of loneliness and emotional and physical abuse. Later she was able to find some kindness from a few employers and some prostitutes. It is a sad story told with bright flashes of dark humor and it is utterly engaging.
In the performance, Mr. Kinevane sings lustily (original music by Denis Clohessy), moves with a dancer’s physicality (choreography adviser, Emma O’Kane) and, in itself a feat of exquisite timing, talks to and with himself as a soundscape mimics and expands his own words. Scenically, the design is very simple, but effective. Inspired by the image of a golden pharaoh with a black face that the actor saw in an antique shop in Perth, Australia, the physical production is all black and gold. It consists of an inchoate black mass that represents the crypt, the dusty black of the Mr. Kinevane’s costume, and a splash of gold on his cheek that indicates the damage to his character’s face. The theme is also reflected in a giant swath of gold lamé hung from the grid in which the performer wraps himself at certain points of the narrative, and a few other golden props.
Underneath, a tale told by a very corporeal spirit, is filled to the brim with the joy of life, even when it is fraught with misfortune and cruelty. It is a show for which there is no comfortable pigeonhole. Underneath is the most excellent product of a master storyteller at the height of his craft. See it while you can.
Underneath, presented by Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Fishamble: The New Play Company, runs through October 30 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Blvd. in Los Angeles.