"Has no one a skitter o' dignity left?" asks Flor, the exasperated old timer in Irish actor Pat Kinevane's remarkable one-man show "Forgotten," which opened in New York for a limited run on January 10 before returning to New York for a longer scheduled run later this year. In an indelible solo performance that sees Kinevane bringing to life four very distinct male and female characters, "Forgotten" tells the interconnecting stories of four elderly people living in retirement homes and care facilities around Ireland, who range in age from 80 to 100 years old. Although on paper this might sound like a challenging enough concept for a play (and in truth it is), it is also one of the most unexpectedly witty and dramatically rewarding works of the theater you are likely to attend this year. In a somewhat bizarre staging choice, "Forgotten" is presented as a fusion of European and Japanese Kabuki theatrical styles. What, the audience wonders, has the heightened theatrical style of Kabuki got to do with the lives of four Irish pensioners? Kinevane responds persuasively. The sorrows of ageing and the mystery of the heart are movingly captured by this slow and deliberate performance style, kicking the play into an unlikely artistic high gear. Dublin-based director Jim Culleton directs the show with enormous confidence, bringing to life its central themes. Since its inception Culleton's new play company Fishamble has been at the helm of this exciting work, cementing the company's growing reputation for developing the best new Irish writing for the stage. At times the play and Kinevane's performance is challengingly dark and at other times it's unexpectedly hilarious. We're certainly familiar with Irish plays about aging and its thousand deprivations, but Kinevane's strange, iconoclastic performance blows away any lingering complacency. In "Forgotten" Kinevane seems to have crossed "Kiss of the Spider Woman" with an immediately familiar Irish slice of life tale that might have been penned by William Trevor, and the result is rarely less than electrifying. Kinevane's has written previous plays for Fishamble and has worked as an actor in theater, film, radio and television for the past 17 years on breakout shows like "Ballykissangel" that have launched the careers of his fellow actors like Colin Farrell. But it's a blessing that Kinevane has remained working within the rarefied circle of the Irish theater because he brings an unusual and singular talent to his solo shows. In "Forgotten" he manages to access and embody entire generations of Irish life from the foundation of the republic to the present day with ease, with his own postmodern wordplay and performance style evocatively commenting on each generation's struggles. The beguiling central voices of the play's four characters, Gustus, Flor, Dora and Eucharia, are given rich individual life by Kinevane live and on tape, building cumulatively as the play progresses. Kinevane switches between each role with marvelous facility, clearly the result of his talent and the strength of his distinctive writing. Kinevane and Culleton originally spent six months developing and rehearsing "Forgotten," with support from artists, academics, designers and community health experts. Because of this in-depth research the play now speaks with real authority about its chosen subject - what becomes of the elderly in Celtic Tiger era Ireland. Flor, the caustic elderly Irish male that Kinevane intermittently embodies, is utterly enraged to discover how his generation - the one that fought for and built the new republic - has finally been tossed on the scrap heap, without a word of thanks or even an acknowledgement of their decades long struggles. Worse, he now has to live out his final days in Limerick city, surrounded by professional carers who - in his opinion - are actually neither of these things. There's real bite in Kinevane's script and performance, and even one of these tales would be worth the admission price. There is real pathos underneath all the dazzling word play, and Kinevane never loses sight of it. Since May 2006 the show has been performed in a series of special one-off performances in a variety of traditional and non-traditional spaces - black box theatres, hotel rooms, even in the conference rooms of Dublin Castle. This year sees the first U.S. performances of the show, and its success seems assured when it returns for an extended run at a still to be announced New York venue here later this year.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore