Last Saturday night, I returned to the Odyssey Theater in Los Angeles to see a new play by writer, actor and poet, Pat Kinevane, who hales from Dublin.
Kinevane says his play, Before, is about love. Nah. It’s about the quirks of fate that happen to us, and how love gets a bruising as we adjust to our destiny. Which is not the destiny we choose, but is chosen for us.
It also reminds us that all of history is about the befores. Before Waterloo, there was the return of Napoleon. Before the return of Napoleon, there was the stupidity of the invasion of Russia. And so on and so forth, and so in our private lives as well. Those lives are made up of the before of each event.
Before is written and directed by Kinevane. It’s a one man show, with Kinevane playing a character named Pontius. And I do mean a show rather than a play. It has music and dance and magical moments with a white scarf and a pretty wedding dress. The lighting, stark and strict, keeps our emotions in check. There are “ghost” characters, like Pontius' mother. I like her madness. Creative and destructive as it is, such a madness fascinates. As a mother myself, I am both repelled and sucked in by her description, (related to us by Pontius) of how rain drops on Mars are diamonds. Diamonds as raindrops would be a nasty thing to deal with, tearing our umbrellas, and to whom would we sell our “raindrops” on Mars? See what I mean about creative and destructive? Oh how the metaphor works, for Pontius' mom attempts to destroy what she has created: Her son.
The action begins with Pontius walking into Clerys’ department store just as it is closing. Not for the night, but forever: Clerys went bankrupt back in 2015. The reason for his visit is that he wants to buy a lovely gift for the daughter he has not seen in 20 years. Now here is where the “befores” begin. Before he walked into Clerys, Pontius had a life that led up to this moment. The reason for not seeing his daughter is because of the nastiness of a custody battle, which he lost. However, before that, we have the one night stand that impregnated the woman. The description of that night of sex is worth the price of admission! It also portends to how this short relationship will ultimately end. Indeed, if anything, it is a caution about one night stands. (I have a male friend who described his one night stand, which also produced a child, as a night of horror.)
Pontius makes his one not stand sound as if he were mesmerized by a cobra. But before that, he tells the story of his greatest wounds. Of how he lost his immediate family, and how fate spared him because of a bee sting. And yet, his daughter changes everything. He visits her every Saturday. He lovingly takes her for strolls, plays with her, talks to her, everything a girl wants of her dad. But the poison of the mother would not let up. Her having to share the girl with that one-night-stand of a dad is, well, as a woman I could see it might nag on me. Who wants to recall such a night on a weekly basis? Dad is that constant reminder. And such a fate might befall the daughter one day. So best get rid of the reminder, no matter how much it hurts the dad. And hurts the daughter. Never mind that this pain will never end for the girl. Before reminds us that a relationship between a dad and his daughter is special, plus it is sacred and edifying for them both.
Fathers teach their daughters about men, so that the girl isn’t left to navigate those waters on her own. He is her first protector because he passes a certain knowledge on to her. You see, it’s those quirks of fate, of that bee sting and that one stand that Pontius must contend with. Kinevane has woven all of these fateful stories together in a show that is both beguiling, and maddening at times.
The beguiling you can guess. The maddening is that the story line is a bit chopped up by the songs and dance. Did I mention it is a musical show? Mea culpa. Anyway, many times I felt disrupted by the songs. Perhaps I missed them, but musicals have lead-ins to the songs. I needed better lead-ins.
The technical issue that always bothers me has to do with sound. Here, the recordings, of the voices, need to be cleaned up by simply turning down the volume. What is it with the modern world that everything amplified must be double so? I did what I usually do; partially remove my hearing aide so that the sound doesn’t distort.
Finally, the ending was mixed. One friend said he needed a conclusion, and another said she liked the ambiguity. I am in between. Because I liked one of the last lines, that had to do with the importance of the here and now. Because you cannot control those quirky fates. You can only control your words and your actions.
Before plays at the Odyssey in Los Angeles until December 8.