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The Mysterious Case of Kitsy Rainey review: Superbly skilled Mikel Murfi pares his one-man confessional to its emotional bone

Theatre: Mikel Murfi writes, directs and stars in the final play in trio that began with The Man in the Woman’s Shoes and I Hear You and Rejoice

The Mysterious Case of Kitsy Rainey

Everyman, Cork

The layered episodes of Mikel Murfi’s resuscitation of the late Kitsy Rainey is an example of the playwright and performer’s skill in restoring that almost legendary experience of comedy and tears combined. This mysterious case is the finale of a trio of plays that began their public life somewhere around 2013. For those who have not known The Man in the Woman’s Shoes or I Hear You and Rejoice, the piece can be taken just as itself, a one-man confessional pared to its emotional bone.

Whether laughter is an emotion may be debatable; here there is only the kind of conviction that supports Pat Farnon, a cobbler, in his interrogation of what is truth and what is life. He is ready to stop breathing; advised by the terminal tape-recordings of his late wife, Kitsy, about the realities of heaven, he adjusts to the losses inherent in departure.

Speech is at the core of this play and its performance. Farnon is mute, but there are other voices, and Murfi provides them all, from Kitsy’s suggestion that Holy Mary wears a wig to his own tender recollection of a local poacher luring salmon by singing Salve Regina on the river bank. It is Farnon’s inner narrative we hear, punctuated by a dog’s bark, or by a drum solo where no drums are visible, or by Kitsy herself in recordings as rough as a crust of toast. There’s a nihilistic edge to Kitsy: if there’s a God, she says, then by God he’ll have something to answer for.

Kitsy herself has something to answer for, and her revelations, hinted at by the contents of her suitcase, disturb Farnon’s quiet joy that she ever existed. He is angry, he thinks, and feels, because of the things she didn’t tell him, because of what she withheld. That retrospective is balanced by her warning that she has left a dozen mince pies in the tumble dryer or by her observation that, for a man who walked on water, Jesus is a useless swimmer.


Quotes could continue – the hilarity has the suddenness of surprise – but Murfi‘s grip on this work allows contrasts without contradiction: everything fits. In a performance of superb physical and vocal skill, Murfi himself becomes Pat Farnon, a timorous old man, a trembling hand moving for the kettle where there is only a space for a kettle, or for a glass of milk. He is a small man, as he says, in a small town with a small life. Yet he is preparing for the end with valour, a word that indicates the wondrous richness of this play’s vocabulary.

Directed by Murfi and a talented crew, and shaped by Murfi and Eithne Hand, this Loco & Reckless production deepens without darkening; there is nothing reckless about the directorial care with which, for example, a ventriloquist’s dummy is unveiled, or in the episode of an uphill walk with a friend, an assurance of love, man to man, a hug. We have witnessed a love story with laughs. In a city addicted to standing ovations, this one is deserved.

The Mysterious Case of Kitsy Rainey ends at the Everyman, Cork, on Friday, April 19th; it is then at Wexford Arts Centre on Saturday, April 20th; George Bernard Shaw Theatre, Carlow, on Thursday, April 25th; Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, on Friday, April 26th; Glens Centre, Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, on Thursday, May 9th; and Kenmare Butter Market, Co Kerry, on Wednesday, May 29th

Mary Leland

Mary Leland is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in culture