Pat kinevane darkly comic in  underneath

Global themes grounded in Cobh

Pat Kinevane in "Underneath."

By Orla O’Sullivan

Pat Kinevane, who pioneered the “show in a bag” idea, lives his life from a bag. “Thank God I live near an airport because I’ve spent the last nine years traveling with these shows, either playing in Ireland or abroad.”

The shows, “Forgotten;” “Silent” and now “Underneath,” are penned and performed by Kinevane and are easy to put on because they require little set up—hence the term.

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Kinevane’s bags, though, pack weighty themes: the neglect of the elderly in “Forgotten;” the crisis of homelessness in “Silent,” and in “Underneath,” now playing at the Irish Arts Center, “people who are ostracized and can’t face the world because of their looks,” in his description.

“Next year will be the 10th anniversary of ‘Forgotten’ and it’s still going strong,” said the Corkman long resident in Dublin. “I still perform it and ‘Silent’—sometimes all three shows one night after another.”

When Kinevane began writing solo shows for himself in 2000 it wasn’t the big trend among actors that it is today. “I started doing it before that became popular. Then Fishamble [the Dublin theatre company that has produced much of his work] ran a program called ‘show in a bag’ that was inspired by ‘Forgotten.’”

It was to Fishamble that Kinevane turned to produce his first plays, ensemble productions, relatively early in his acting career. Over more than 20 years Kinevane’s face has become familiar on Irish television and he has played many smaller film roles, but it is with the solo shows that he seems to have really hit his stride.

All three concern outsiders. Asked if he felt like an outsider growing up on the outskirts of Cobh—a small town on an island in Cork harbor—Kinevane said yes, but probably no more so than many teenagers. He moved out of home at age 19 and left Cobh, first to train as a psychiatric nurse, then to work as a civil servant before making his home as an actor in Dublin 26 years ago.

Cobh breathes through Kinevane’s work yet the place seems stifling. The central character in “Underneath” speaks from her grave in Cobh while the main character in “Silent” left the homophobic town that drove his gay brother to suicide and he, named after Rudolph Valentino goes by ’Tino because, he says, in one of Kinevane’s most memorable lines: “Rudolph would have been a disaster in Cobh. I would have been stoned to death with pellets of my own s****.”

“Every home town becomes claustrophobic after a while. In any close-knit community, there’s a stripping away at your confidence and your individuality that comes of fear. The more different others are, the more they hold up a mirror to people who conform out of fear. I had to break free of that and it broke my heart because I loved the town.” His mother still lives there, near his some of siblings – he has two surviving brothers and two sisters – and the neighboring farms their deceased father worked.

The self-proclaimed “rural boy” also loves New York, where he will be until Nov. 1 with “Underneath.” He was last at the IAC two years ago with “Silent.” Among the accolades gained for Kinevane’s solo shows, the Fishamble productions of “Forgotten” and “Silent” marked the first time an Irish company got top honors two years running at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Kinevane praises the “nurturing” way of Fishamble Artistic Director Jim Culleton. “For all the bravado and performing, I’m quite delicate by nature. I need to work with people who will take care of my work and take care of me,” he said.

Clearly the works give back to him. “I’m really only getting to know ‘Underneath’ even though I’ve been doing it for a year.”

Even with his long running shows, he said, “I’ll see a thing I didn’t intend. It’s almost like somebody else wrote them.”

A review of Pat Kinevane’s latest solo show, “Underneath,” at The Irish Arts Center until Nov. 1, will appear in next week’s paper.