Review: In ‘Never Let Go,’ a Solo Performer’s Heart Goes On

Michael Kinnan’s “Never Let Go” is a one-man stage version of “Titanic.” That would be enough to persuade a lot of people to head to the Brick Theater, the adventurous Williamsburg black box where the show opened this week. Just as many might shrug in reflexive disdain.

Kinnan is aware of those potential responses. The program for his show, in which he plays all the parts, claims that his “theatrical realization” of the movie was “created for lovers, fans and even skeptics.” Improbably, all three groups may well come away happy: This heart does go on, and for only an hour instead of three and a half.

“Never Let Go” is a feat of ingenuity that works regardless of whether you have seen the movie. It’s easy to follow the story and identify the characters, even though there is no ocean liner and only minimal costume alterations. Kinnan embodies a dashing androgyny: lipstick and fake eyelashes, a shaved head, tight black pants, a white shirt emerging from a laced corset.

And he needs just a few sound effects and props, including a step ladder and that famous necklace, to drive along the plot. One of the movie’s best scenes is the first meeting between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose, when he talks her out of jumping into the sea from the ship’s stern. Recreating it, Kinnan seamlessly toggles between the two characters, and even nails the moment in which Jack catches Rose when she trips and almost falls into the ocean. As for the sex scene: This may be sacrilegious to say, but it’s better here.

While he adeptly reproduces DiCaprio’s youthful cockiness, Kinnan raises his game to another level with Winslet’s role. He captures her coquettish coyness without caricaturing it. It’s hard not to laugh in delight at his resourcefulness and skill — the commotion following the collision with the iceberg is effectively rendered, complete with a hilariously tiny splash zone — which is quite a different reaction from snickering in superiority.

Kinnan is not blind to the bombastic cheesiness of “Titanic,” yet appears to hold a genuine place in his heart for it, which gives the show winning élan, even heartfelt sincerity. By the time Rose told Jack “there’s a boat” then piteously pleaded “come back, come back,” I was so caught up in the drama that I’d forgotten the original scenes and was feeling for Kinnan’s version of the characters.

In 2009, Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper’s “Rambo Solo” turned the famous Sylvester Stallone into a one-person show that Charles Isherwood of The New York Times described as “a winking shard of low-concept theater for downtown hipsters.” This is not what Kinnan aims for, or even accidentally achieves.

What he does is explore the liminal space between tribute and affectionate satire, which is well illustrated by the way he combines a can’t-help-it fondness for Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” with a playful awareness of its schmaltz. If there is one drawback to the show, it’s that it will send you back into the night with that earworm firmly lodged in your head, all over again.

Never Let Go
Through Oct. 10 at the Brick Theater, Brooklyn; Running time: 1 hour.

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