Pat Kinevane’s one-man performance play Forgotten reminds us that behind the walls of every nursing home live real people who once led fascinating, sometimes improbable lives and who, however physically restricted they may appear, and however ravaged by time’s cruel assaults, remain proud. Many still lead vibrant lives of the mind. Forgotten questions the way that society values, or rather devalues, its elderly charges. Forgotten speaks, with great Irish humor, for these residents and those like them, angry at the bodies that betray them, their dignity assailed daily by intrusive nurses, condescending sales clerks, officious bank tellers and ungrateful, greedy offspring. Though Kinevane’s four characters reside in separate nursing homes in Ireland, they share a fascinating interrelated history, which they gradually reveal to us through alternating narratives.
Mr. Kinevane, one of the principals of Ireland’s acclaimed Fishamble Theater Company, marvelously plays all of the endearing characters: two men and two women, each between the ages of 80 and 100. One, a man named Gustus, is physically infirm due to a stroke. Kinevane, in lithe shape and even a bit of a contortionist when necessary, comes up with a fascinating way of portraying Gustus’ infirmity by sitting in a chair with his back to the audience and wearing glasses on the back of his bald head.
Kinevane peppers his narratives with surprisingly fitting Kabuki-style introductions, providing the characters with a physical grace that their advancing age and frailties often eclipse. Among its most moving parts are the opening and closing segments, both of which use recordings and music and neither of which I want to disclose more about because their power must be experienced; they frame the performance perfectly.
Theatergoers should be prepared to listen closely and work hard to follow the meandering plot lines. They should also be prepared to miss some of the dialogue or have some of it go over their heads. Kinevane, from County Cork, sometimes employs a thick Irish brogue, colloquialisms and slang (the program includes a helpful glossary of terms), particularly with the character of Flor, a fiery former laborer with a vivid, agitated imagination that the nurses try to keep medicated, who proudly protects his physical dignity at any cost. The payoff of Kinevane’s authenticity is in the rich originality, deep humor and pathos of these characters.
Lurking in all these narratives is the advancing specter of death for these residents. One, Eucharia, even wonders about the physical position in which she’ll die. Yet, Kinevane’s material avoids becoming bleak or depressing. In fact, it’s often scandalous, randy and uproarious. These characters are still very much concerned with living, with figuring things out for themselves.
Kinevane is a first rate writer and performer who captures the essence of, and utterly inhabits, the souls of these four personalities. Ably directed by Jim Culleton, Kinevane harnesses the power of light, sound and his own physicality to tell the stories of those who find themselves in a death-struggle with their own bodies, senses and minds. His feisty characters still retain unique opinions and important tales to tell. And they’re not going anywhere until they tell them.