Washington theater doesn’t see a lot of solo turns with the bravura force that Pat Kinevane brings to his Olivier Award-winning “Silent.” The Irish actor spellbinds in all kinds of ways during his dark tale of a homeless man ravaged by grief, spinning rich tales with his sonorous voice and practically dancing through the silent films his character imagines. It’s a coup for D.C. Irish arts organization Solas Nua to have Kinevane for a few weeks at the Atlas Performing Arts Center.
The production comes from Dublin’s Fishamble company, and Artistic Director Jim Culleton has tailored his taut, much-toured production for the Atlas’s small Lab II space. The project is part of a loose trilogy Kinevane has created about people living on the margins, and as he plays the homeless figure at the center of “Silent,” he’s apt to engage you directly about, say, Paris, or antidepressants, before sailing off into memories of the traumas that wrecked his life and left him on the streets.
Modern Irish drama bristles with colorful, language-driven monologues, but this is different. Culleton and Kinevane forge a high theatricality that sometimes lifts into cinematic fantasy; the main character was named after Rudolph Valentino, and Kinevane is fully capable of silent film star overdrive. Then it’s back to disarmingly direct conversation with the audience, dropping racy jokes and observations about sleeping rough that will give you pause and ratchet up your awareness. The toggling is an effective way to slice into mental illness and addiction while building a character and a set of circumstances that feel awfully well observed.
As Kinevane cycles through minor anecdotes and big scenes, you’re tempted to say the show is a touch too thick with detail and digression. Yet the kaleidoscopic picture of the man’s shattered life — especially his relationship with his deceased gay brother — grows brilliantly clear. You pick up the key facts by degrees; that core story about the brother, grim and cruel, has repercussions that, in this man’s tortured mind, never settle down.
For all its demanding twists and flamboyance, “Silent” never feels like an actor’s showcase. Kinevane is close enough in this intimate space that he can spend a lot of time a few feet from you, speaking in a whispery purr. But the voice and body both prove to be tremendously expressive as he fills the stage and takes on characters from a grotesque in-law to the wife — you can practically see her as he cradles a blanket — who threw him out of the house. This is high-level acting, hand-in-hand with a shrewdly crafted portrait that you’ll find hard to shake off.
Silent, written and performed by Pat Kinevane. Directed by Jim Culleton. Music by Denis Clohessy; costume design by Catherine Condell. Through March 24 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $35. 202-399-7993. solasnua.org.