Reviewer's Rating

Everything in King, the one-man show currently running at 59E59, is bathed in purple. The lights of the black box theater are more often than not a sultry purple, and its star and creator Pat Kinevane is likewise dressed in purples, from his bathrobe to the shirts he meticulously irons to his Elvis impersonator costume. But this is not a tale of royalty and grandeur – at least, not in the grand perspective. Instead, the inner life of one man is laid bare: his insecurities, his pet peeves, the people and things he loves most dearly, and the things in his past he is healing from but never quite able to shake. 

Pat Kinevane is stunningly vulnerable and surprisingly sweet in the role of Luther, a Cork County resident struggling with mental health who rarely leaves his house to do anything but pick up pills, visit his father in a nursing home, and occasionally perform as an Elvis impersonator to pay the bills. He approaches the audience of his one-man show with an easy camaraderie. Are we figments of his imagination that he conjures often? Is it the stress of the night ahead – an uncharacteristic night out and a promised date setup – that puts him in the mood to talk it out with someone? Whatever the answer, Luther is a natural storyteller, but his narrations don’t go as smoothly as he may wish – he is interrupted time and again by loud flashes, the blaring of traffic, a sound suspiciously like a gunshot. 

The access we as an audience have to Luther’s mind also puts us at the mercy of whatever it is that he struggles with. We’ll find out before the end, of course. But until then, all we have to go on are Luther’s jesting allusions to his being a “psychopath,” the scenes that sometimes fill his head on stage, and the flashes and bangs that keep incapacitating him.

 As Luther prepares himself to perform as Elvis at his friend’s wedding, he cycles through all the stories of his own personal history in an almost schizophrenic order. He impersonates his fierce grandma BeeBaw and both of his parents, telling us nonlinear snippets of their lives. He tells us about his neighbors and the other residents at his dad’s nursing home. Kinevane punctuates the stories by crooning some Elvis tunes or dancing a passionate tango with an imaginary partner. Before we can really know what we are seeing, we watch as Luther reacts to the cries of long-dead ancestors calling out to him for help beyond the grave. We learn later that he’s been hearing these voices since he was admitted to the mental hospital as a teenager. His monologues are periodically overtaken by the passions of an Argentinian tango, later explained to be his parents’ favorite date night out. As the disjointed pieces of Luther’s mind start to form patterns for the audience, they fill in the pieces that we were missing before until his entire life story comes together with a bittersweet click into place.

The beginning of King is fragmented and a little jarring, but as Luther spins his tale, it becomes clear that this character is only telling the story the way his mind will allow him to. This is what it’s like to step into his shoes for a day. Kinevane’s excellent storytelling is only rivaled by his singing and dancing, and he has crafted a complex, uniquely Irish narrative that explores family, childhood, colonialism, oppression, and mental health. It asks the question: what makes us who we are? There is so much depth to Luther than first meets the eye, as Luther himself will show you, and this highly endearing character will surely win you over before the end. 

Written and performed by Pat Kinevane

Directed by Jim Culleton

Presented by Fishamble: The New Play Company

Run time: 80 min with no intermission

Runs through 14 April 2024

Theater 59E59