In his solo performance Forgotten, Pat Kinevane enters a stark stage, dressed in a kimono. During the hypertheatrical arrival, the sound design plays out a sequence of boards clacking, slowly at first, but with ever faster tempo, a nod to the shime daiko drum that traditionally accompanies the entrance of a performer in Kabuki theater. At the moment when Kine-vane crosses a threshold into the playing space, we hear the wail of a crying baby.
Forgotten, a presentation by the Irish troupe Fishamble, has been touring Europe for about six years in addition to playing in New York and Washington, D.C. There have been comparisons between Kinevane's taut, poetical writing and that of W. B. Yeats', but the opening conjures T.S. Eliot, who wrote: "In my beginning is my end."
Kinevane's performance could, like Eliot's most famous poem, easily be called "Four Quartets," focusing as it does on four souls relegated to the margins of society by old age.
Forgotten, at the Odyssey Theatre through Dec. 4, is about endings.
Kinevane portrays two women and two men, all 80 years old and more, in sundry Irish nursing homes. Through their confessions and even railings against staff, they each summon their past while on the cusp of their expiration. Naturally, this corresponds to the approaching moment when their memories, like their lives, are about to vaporize.
None of which is particularly maudlin, thank goodness, in Kinevane's performance. The characters possess qualities of vigor and humor and, in the case of one man, Flor — a former laborer — a furious insistence that he's landed in "a shite hole" and that the nurses allow him to bathe himself. A scullery maid named Eucharia (defined by a head scarf) gets into town every week to take full advantage of department-store cosmetics samples.
And through the intersecting vignettes of each character, some clearly in better homes than others, a past emerges, piecemeal, in which at least three of the four lives were interconnected, sexually in one case. Though advertised as a piece about the way we treat the aged, that's almost beside the far more existential point. The play is an elegiac, post-Beckettian poem about life's vitality, which time slowly, almost invisibly, chisels away, until all that's left is sand and wisps of memory.
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Shaved-headed Kinevane has an imposing, regal presence, to which he brings a choreographed physical agility as he sashays in a kind of loincloth with a Kabuki flare between the four locales, delineated for each character, under Jim Culleton's direction. This strategy comes with the drawbacks of artifice, which teeters between stylization and affect. Watching Kinevane move is a far sight more interesting than having him merely switch from one impersonation to another, yet it clashes with Culleton's decision to isolate each character to a physical corner of the stage. Not only does this create neck-lock for audience members craning for stretches as Dora (an aristocratic rebel) brushes aside her former life's agitations, it also leads to a friction between the fluidity of the Kabuki frame, in which time and space melt into a story, and a kind of land-locked Irish naturalism in which stories exist not in open, empty space but in hovels and bars, where you're supposed to imagine the walls and bottles of poteen.
And yet, as Eucharia the maid spends time in her corner, applying makeup, in one culminating scene she brushes on white-face, sculpting it into a death-mask skull, before she morphs into Flor, who by the end of his scene croons at the top of his lungs an ancient Celtic hymn as part of an ascent into some imagined stratosphere, beyond life and the travails of the small, small souls below. In this scene, at least, the production's literal and metaphoric languages fuse into a devastatingly exalted union.
Almost four years ago here, Alex Lyras performed his one-man show, The Common Air, a gallery of interconnected characters at an airport during a terrorist attack. For all its stylization, and broader reach for the exigencies of living and dying, Forgotten is neither as slick nor as unified as Lyras' show. Being more ambitious, it falters more, like Icarus in the blaze of the sun. Yet when it starts to plummet, as it does during stretches of redundancy and stasis, it rescues itself before crashing. It relies on our intelligence as much as on our patience. For all these reasons, it really shouldn't be missed.
FORGOTTEN | Written and performed by Pat Kinevane | Presented by Fishamble at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., W.L.A. | Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (no perf Nov. 24); through Dec. 4 | (310) 477-2055 | odysseytheatre.com