Every now and then you see something truly unique, and Pat Kinevane's one-man show Forgotten qualifies. A blend of Irish character studies and Japanese Kabuki theater, it is a superb showcase for this exceptionally warm and generous performer. Under the firm direction of Jim Culleton, he casts an effective spell, mingling the sadness of growing old without due respect (all four characters are over 80) with joyful recollections of youth and moments of high grief.
Some segments work better than others; for one thing, the female characters come across more richly than the male. And in spite of a helpful glossary in the program, some of the references to Irish culture and language will elude typical American audiences. Too, the beauty of the Kabuki movements Mr. Kinevane uses to transition between scenes doesn't seem quite enough to explain their existence. But on the whole, this disjunction didn't bother me; the happy temptation is to always give this work the benefit of the doubt, swept up as one is in its imaginative evocations of the lives of these aged survivors.
The insistent music (by Brian Byrne) and sensitive lighting function almost as characters in themselves. So does Mr. Kinevane's heaving, shiny, nearly naked body, painted in black Japanese figures. So does his face, gradually painted into a white mask by one of the characters, the make-up obsessed Eucharia, once scullery-maid to the other female character, Dora. But the real star of the show, besides Mr. Kinevane himself, is his language; he both captures and heightens the thrum and sigh of these folks' speech, from gruff Flor to mild Dora. All live now in separate nursing homes.
Flor sees visions: "Holy Mary is under me bed. She is, under. I saw her last Monday, over there in a long white coat and a blue band on her neck. Snowey skin, and a head of the darkest hair. She was crying like a girl and kept saying she was lonely." Later, Dora recalls the preamble to her youthful affair with man married to a woman perfectly named Petra: "…he positively altered the hue of the spaces about him. Absorbed everything. A piece of chess. Soot hair. Hands unspoiled. Face, flawless. But she teased him down the path of middle age and emptiness. Expertly."
More than a play, it's poetry, and it's an immersive experience. That's no mean trick for one performer to pull off. Forgotten runs through March 7 at the Irish Arts Center in New York, and then returns to Ireland, with further international dates to be announced. For tickets please visit Smarttix or call 212-868-4444.