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Review

A one-man show about a horribly disfigured woman: Pat Kinevane's riveting 'Underneath'

With his psychological insight, compassion and darkly comic wit, the Irish solo performer Pat Kinevane specializes in conjuring up the overlooked discards of society and making us take notice.

Having populated previous pieces with homeless alcoholics and forgotten nursing home residents, Kinevane is back with a riveting Odyssey Theatre-Fishamble co-production of his latest work, aptly titled “Underneath,” which excavates realities hidden below surface appearances.

Kinevane’s monologue explores social norms surrounding beauty, exclusion and mortality through the vivid persona of a woman horribly disfigured in childhood by a freak lightning strike that made her “the Wimbledon champ at dodging mirrors.” Mocked and reviled throughout her life, the narrator lacks even the dignity of a first name and is identified only as O’Sullivan.

Oh, and she’s also dead. Her deceased state adds further resonance to the play’s title, though it hasn’t helped her appearance as she slithers out from her crypt — covered in charcoal ash and mummified in strips of black cloth.

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Quintessentially Irish, however, O’Sullivan’s ghost welcomes the opportunity to engage rather than spook us, employing her florid gifts of gab and storytelling.

Under finely tuned direction by longtime collaborator Jim Culleton, Kinevane peppers O’Sullivan’s tale with voices of supporting characters, ad-libbed audience banter, humorous anecdotes and wry reflections on a world of both wonder and cruelty observed from an outsider’s perch. (Wide-ranging satirical targets include a reality show parody about a boorish couple seeking their dream house and a hilarious take-down of “Downton Abbey.”) A recurring theme ties modern life to the archetypal wellsprings of ancient Egyptology, augmented with golden props and supple choreography that belies the actor’s thickset frame.

Given Kinevane’s digressions and brogue-heavy delivery at times, the tightly constructed story line demands and rewards close attention. This is one ghost story that haunts more by virtue of its poignant truths than its supernatural elements.

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“Underneath”

Where: Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles

When: 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends Oct. 30

Tickets: $25

Info: (310) 477-2055 Ext. 2 or www.odysseytheatre.com

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.

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