When it comes to the great Pat Kinevane, an Irish national treasure and Olivier Award winner, the word that comes up, after trolling through my mental hard drive, is “incomparable.” I really can’t liken him to any other performer that I know of, and I get around and have done so for decades. A solo performer who writes his own scripts, he is in town once more at Odyssey Theatre to kick off the national tour of his new play, Before. Previously seen in Underneath, Forgotten, and Silent, his new show, Before, is his most ambitious. Nominally set in Clerys Department Store on O’Connell Street in Dublin on the day that it closed in 2012, the uniquely named Pontius (Mr. Kinevane) shops for a gift for the daughter he hasn’t seen in seventeen years. The story shuttles back and forth in time from Pontius’ fraught, rural childhood to the moments leading up to his appointment with twenty-one year-old, Aster, his daughter, a child that was conceived in a burst of wild lust with a wanton socialite in a Dublin alley.
All the multiple characters that Kinevane creates must deal with the exigencies of life, in classical terms, the hero’s struggle. And, boy, does Pontius struggle. But there is joy in his life, as well. His parents were caught up in the giddiness of musical comedy, in its performance and in costuming. His Dad, a shy guy, couldn’t bear to be on stage, so often he sang behind the set or curtain as others lip-synced. His mom sewed. So it is fair to call Before a musical. Pat Kinevane sings and dances up a storm throughout with boundless, heroic energy. And he is brilliant! He sings like a god with an enormous range. We’re not talking about operatic bel canto here, but character driven vocality, that ranges from low growls to soaring falsetto. The script references too many well-known musicals to catalog here, but they are many and spot on in supporting the story. Those moments are shear delight.
Mr. Kinevane is also a superb dancer who exhibits a broad catalog of movement choreographed by Emma O’Kane, and, in a show like this, a de rigueur bit of tap. Kinevane displays a complete, perfect mastery of his actor’s instrument—mind, body and voice–employed in the telling of a tale. He is a wonder of indefatigable energy powering through the ninety-minutes or so of a classical performance that has tragedy and comedy, pathos and joy. The crowd at Odyssey rose instantly at the end, applauded long and loud demanding he return twice for more until he finally fled behind a curtain with a joyous smile on his face.
Before, directed by Jim Culleton, boasts a marvelous sound design that has Mr. Kinevan singing in perfect sync with a recording of himself. The sound design also includes music composed by Denis Clohessy, recorded by the RTE Concert Orchestra, and conducted by Cathal Synnott. It also featuring the voices of Clelia Murphy as the Announcer, Kez Kinevane as the Guard, and Alex Sharpe as Aster.
Lighting design is by Pat Kinevane, Jim Culleton, and Katelyn Braymer; costume design is by Catherine Condell; Gavin Kostick is dramaturg; and Beth Mack manages the stage with aplomb.
Before, written and performed by Pat Kinevane, is commissioned by Fishamble, The New Play Company, produced by Eva Scanlan and Beth Hogan for Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, and presented by Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and Fishamble: The New Play Company in association with Georganne Aldrich Heller.
Readers, buy your tickets. Don’t miss this show.
Before runs through December 8 at Odyssey Theatre, 2055 Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles.