What lies beneath — beneath the ground, behind the mask, below the surface of superficial appearance?

That’s what the astonishing Irish performer Pat Kinevane, back in town for a very brief run, addresses in his latest one-man show, “Underneath,” at The Odyssey Theatre in West L.A.

In April this year, Kinevane, a member of Fishamble, the highly lauded Dublin-based new play development company, received an Olivier Award, the highest honor in British theatre. He kept company with Dame Judi Dench, accepting her record-breaking 8th Olivier.

Kinevane’s work is steeped in physicality and incantatory writing (his own), marked with a dark humor, focusing on people at the edges of society who are voiceless. Previous appearances at the Odyssey have included his plays “Silent” and “Forgotten,” the first about a homeless alcoholic who replays scenes from his past in the manner of a silent film, the second focused on four very elderly people living in nursing homes in Ireland.

“Underneath” takes place in the tomb of a woman who died (murdered) at age 48 but whose face had been horribly disfigured by a lightning strike at the age of 9. This made her the object of ridicule, scorn, labeled her as a freak and a monster whose appearance determined the course of her abbreviated life. But her interior world is rich, dark and funny and she shares it with us.

An atmospheric soundscape opens “Underneath” as a hand rises from her grave in a dingy cemetery located in County Cork (not the “haughtier” graveyard next door), where foxes make noise in an adjoining crypt.

This is no zombie or mummy play, however; the narrator simply wants to come out and talk about what happened to her. “You never know what’s just around the corner,” she repeats several times during the play. And she comes out because, as she declares, “I’m dead! You’re alive! I don’t get to speak to people anymore!”

The first trick Kinevane pulls off is that he is a man playing a woman, and a dead one at that. It doesn’t take long to be swept up. The stage is simple but striking: a bright gold curtain hangs from ceiling to floor along with a platform covered in gold fabric.

She was born after her mother saw the movie “Cleopatra” hence the connection to ancient Egypt, where life and death are immutably commingled.  Her visage, reminiscent of a pharaoh’s, is blackened to a leathery charcoal, her eyes shadowed in gold and her teeth astonishingly white, wearing torn rags like a refugee from a horror movie.

Visually and physically stunning, “Underneath” is moving, thought-provoking and worth your while; it’s an uncommon theatrical experience. “Underneath” runs only through October 30, and there are just two encore performances of “Silent,” (Oct. 21 and 28), the production that won Kinevane his Olivier.

For details, visit www.odysseytheatre.com or call the box office for very affordable tickets at (310) 477-2055.

A THOUSAND CUTS

My first job out of college was as a salesperson for Universal 16—the 16mm rental division of Universal Pictures (it’s gone now). We rented 16mm prints of Universal features to classrooms, colleges, prisons, film clubs and individuals with their own projectors and screening rooms. Before Ron Howard struck it big as a director, he used to come up to our office, then located on Vermont Ave. and 20th St., to pick up these bulky reels.

As a dedicated film buff steeped in the medium’s history and lore, Dennis Bartok, along with writing partner and film archivist Jeff Joseph, has written “A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies.”

Bartok is a recent transplant from Burbank to the Westside. A former programmer with American Cinematheque, which partners for screenings at Santa Monica’s Aero Theatre, he’s now this non-profit film organization’s General Manager.

He’s also a filmmaker, having recently returned from Ireland where he directed a horror picture called POV, about a woman trapped in her own body.

His book explores the vanishing subculture of film collectors, in an era when physical film itself is disappearing, being replaced by digital media. The collectors themselves were a paranoid, secretive, eccentric and sometimes obsessive group of film-mad collectors who made movies and their projection a private religion in the pre-DVD and Blu-Ray era.

The book includes the stories of film historian/critic Leonard Maltin, TCM host Robert Osborne discussing Rock Hudson’s secret 1970s film vault, RoboCop producer Jon Davison dropping acid and screening King Kong with Jefferson Airplane at the Fillmore East,

and Academy Award–winning

film historian Kevin Brownlow recounting his decades-long quest to restore the 1927 masterpiece, Napoleon. 

Many of those persecuted were gay men. Victims included Planet of the Apes star Roddy McDowall, who was arrested in 1974 for film collecting and forced to name names of fellow collectors, including Rock Hudson and Mel Tormé.

Other lesser-known but equally fascinating subjects include one-legged former Broadway dancer Tony Turano, who lives in a Norma Desmond–like world of decaying movie memories, and notorious film pirate Al Beardsley, one of the men responsible for putting O. J. Simpson behind bars.

Be on the lookout for notices about readings and signings. In an industry town, it’s good to remember that it’s not all about celebrity; and before film goes by way of the dodo bird, read about those who were dedicating to preserving it.

 

Sarah A. Spitz spent her career as a producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica and produced freelance arts reports for NPR. She has also written features and reviews for various print and online publications. Contact her at culturewatch@smdp.com

 

Pat Kinevane,  photo by Patrick Redmond

 

 

 

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