Pat Kinevane is a riveting Irish performance artist who has it all; looks, physicality, emotion, power, poignancy, comedy, tragedy and a poetic storytelling style entirely unique onstage. He’s back in West L.A. for a brief run at the Odyssey Theatre. “Before,” now making its US premiere, won’t be here very long (through Dec. 8), so run, don’t walk, to get a seat ASAP. This is the third time I’ve seen and been blown away by his work and this time, I say without hesitation, it’s like nothing he’s done before.
In 2012, he brought “Silent,” about a homeless alcoholic who replays scenes from his past in the manner of a silent film; in 2014, he presented it in repertory with “Forgotten,” set in an Irish old age home. In 2016, “Underneath” explored the tragic story of a dead woman whose face was disfigured during her lifetime.
And now we have “Before,” about Pontius (“after the pilot fella”) whose parents loved musicals, who himself hates musicals but presents his story as one (albeit subverted)—and it’s terrific.
Pontius is a country farmer, a guy used to life’s hard knocks, on his way to Dublin to meet up with his 21-year old daughter, whom he’s been prevented from seeing since she was 4-years old, and he’s at a long-standing Dublin institution, Clery’s department store, on its closing day to buy her a gift.
We walk into a dark, barebones, foggy set, with a small table holding a teacup off to the right, a chair and white shoes to the left, and at the center back, a ribbony, rainbowy curtained box from which he bursts out several times as the performance progresses. There’s a beautiful soundtrack recorded by the RTE Concert Orchestra and choreography to match that of any Broadway play. Throughout, we hear a melodious female voice announcing sales in different store departments, and occasionally speaking directly to Pontius about his state of mind.
SONG, DANCE, COMEDY, TRAGEDY
As the non-linear plot unfolds, we hear about his parents’ passion for musicals – his mother was a seamstress who made costumes for plays his father sang in (often behind the curtain). He is orphaned when his mother, father and sister are killed in a car accident on their way to a musical competition.
One day as an adult, he travels into Dublin for a night of heavy partying, and is seduced by a wild and wanton woman, whose pregnancy comes as a complete shock when he’s told about it many months later.
He’s madly in love with his daughter, whom he’s only allowed to see on weekends; why becomes clear in a dark twist that leads to the larger tragedy—by age 4, her family cuts him off from her and he’s devastated.
But he sings! He dances! He makes references to musicals and musical stars (Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire) and then upends them with some seriously edgy takes on what musical music really is (“The strangest s**t will pop up in a musical,” he sings). He’s a master of making you laugh, then grabbing you by the gut with the depth of his pain, a whiplash of emotions just moments apart.
In a beautifully symbolic gesture, he hangs a long white dress on a hook that swirls allowing him to imagine dancing with his long-invisible daughter.
Dark humor, deep anguish, remarkable dancing and singing, comic notes and moments of powerful rage and thunderous emotion make this whirlwind performance a must-see.
“Before” by Pat Kinevane runs Thursdays through Sundays, through December 8, call (310) 477-2055 or visit www.OdysseyTheatre.com. The Odyssey is located at 2055 Sepulveda Blvd., in West L.A.
KEY LARGO AT THE GEFFEN
Until now, Bogart and Bacall, the hurricane and Johnny Rocco, defined the filmed version of “Key Largo.” But the Geffen Playhouse has succeeded in making this world premiere adaptation of the original play, that led to the movie, come to life on the contemporary stage. It’s still a period piece, but thuggery is timeless as are the themes of good, evil, lesser evil and integrity.
No comparisons to the movie need be made. Andy Garcia does a towering job as Johnny. Bogey’s role, Frank McCloud, is handled with ramrod dignity by handsome Danny Pino; Tony Plana brings warmth and poignancy to his role as the now-blind hotel owner, Mr. D’Alcala. Rose McIver makes the Bacall role, Nora, more the “next door girl,” and there’s a palpable attraction between her and Frank. Rocco’s woman Gaye Dawn (Joely Fisher), is an effective floozy with a drinking problem. The boorish and clownish thugs bring the comic relief: Curly (Louis Mustillo) and Toots (Stephen Borrello).
The hotel set is outstanding and so are the lighting and other special effects from the approaching hurricane. The plot centers on Frank, a World War II veteran who is visiting the families of all the men who died under his watch by what turns out to be friendly fire. Nora was married to Victor, Mr. D’Alcala’s son; now Rocco’s taken it over for nefarious purposes.This is the ambush Frank walks into as he comes to inform Mr. D’Alcala about Victor’s death.
The plot twists and turns, anger seethes and burns, danger is near and ultimately, what’s right will triumph but not until we’ve been through some seriously dramatic ups and downs.
Could this be headed for Broadway?
Key Largo is onstage at The Geffen Playhouse through December 10. Visit https://www.geffenplayhouse.org/shows/key-largo/ for details and tickets.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications.