Daniel Kitson usually makes shows for the lonely and the dreamers. But his most recent show, Dot. Dot. Dot., is made for the handwashers, mask-wearers, locked-down, and overly cautious.
It’s also a limited, privileged view of a certain kind of pandemic experience. He’s crafted a show that’s a bit of a “hug” in these trying times, but, for some, a hug maybe exactly what they don’t want right now.
Recently, I screamed at an elderly stranger with a mask not covering his nose, “No touching,” as he tried to elbow bump me in a park. I’m not yet ready for hugs.
In an empty theater, Kitson is performing this show live for an audience of online ticketholders made to match the size of the auditorium (although during my entire show, there was a pop-up warning “This live event has not yet started.” Did it never start?).
Essentially, it’s him, a pile of post-it notes he has laid on his table and then holds up to the camera. He juxtaposes post-it notes with events. He declares in all caps on one note “REVELATION” when he finds out he can mail people his surplus bread. He holds up “Sinking Ships” when he talks about friends leaving New York and other cities.
Behind him we can see the empty expanse of a red-seated theater. It’s like any old Kitson show…and then it’s not at all, because we cannot be in the room together. The absence of an audience is a dominating presence. We are not there to distract him, laugh-off key in a way that delights him, or share in this communal moment.
He’s written something he thinks will generate that community, safely at a distance. And it does and it does not.
Kitson’s show is about trying to find a way of living in this ellipsis moment. He too is muddling through the best he can. For Kitson, he charts the progress of his “very nearly fictional” pandemic life from overenthusiastic bread-baking to socially-distanced family gatherings to deepening anxiety as everyone else starts to loosen their behavior, but he cannot. He feels “stranded” watching people move on, yet he is not comfortable changing his ways. He asks “Is all my caution just self-righteous cowardice, wearing a wig?”
Dot. Dot. Dot. wants to be sweet and warm, but the darker aspects of pandemic times have been glossed over. The messy feelings and complex issues raised by it also get the short shrift.
Kitson is not making that show and he’s not that artist. But I can feel his distance. His observer’s eyes from a comfortable back garden in London on a New York sliding into chaos, death, and despair is maybe not what I needed.
He’s speaking exclusively of people with resources and choices in this pandemic when many folks had none. It’s his world view and he is self-aware. He notes he has a back garden that many of his friends do not. He can easily quarantine himself to visit his parents.
And to be fair, my lockdown experiences mirror some of his (I’m a privileged employed person working from home), but the emotional arc of my past 8 months was absent in his representation. It’s been a dramatic roller-coaster of fear, anxiety, rage, fury, unrelenting isolation, exhaustion, trauma, and a few nice walks in the fresh air. Yet, this show tries to hover in a middle-ground of indignant annoyance and mild woe.
Maybe it’s all too much and he’s tried to bring the sunshine where he can. I just…
I need the hug and I don’t need the hug. It’s reductive in a way that I did not welcome and it’s gentleness feels false. Maybe I’m too angry right now for this kind of artistic cuddling. Make me feel things or GTFO.
Even as political issues crop up, he opts not to explore any of them. They get rattled off on his list equal to kids knocking on his door or biking around London. Sure, he rails at Andrew Lloyd Webber trying to get people back in theaters so he can make money again, the UK government speaking of underlying health conditions as a reasonable ground to let people die, and expresses joy at a particular statue being pushed into a river. But he silently holds up a note, “Everyone else is on the marches,” in June while not commenting at all.
Listen, not everyone could safely go to the marches. But the not talking about the marches says volumes. And theater has had this problem for a good long while.
I’ve seen Kitson in this spot before and he’s not great at untangling his white privilege on stage (while he’s started to have a little more success addressing his male privilege). In this moment, where there is, at least in America, a serious introspection happening about race and theater, it’s hard for me to just tacitly accept this silence. It screamed in my ears.
While the show is not what I needed, others may appreciate the validation it brings. You may be able to relate to his familiar lockdown grumbles—his irritation at the maskless, his encounters with conspiracists, his questioning participation in celebratory clapping (I have already forgotten the clapping…this pandemic has been a century long), his annoyance at loud, crowded parties, and his efforts to rationally distance from other people for safety while also indulging in irrational choices (holding his breath when people pass by etc).
And this is his wheelhouse–localized misanthropic angst given a comedic flourish. He says it himself: “I’ve disliked the sound of other people having fun since long before it was fashionable.”
He can also put a whimsical artistic spin on everyday discoveries he’s made in this new time of forced isolation—a forest he never knew was nearby, a shift from frustration with the screaming kids in the street to a growing fondness for them, and finding a strange pleasure in just hearing your loved ones make quotidian noises from the other room as a soundtrack of some kind of “normal.”
His stories about his “encounters” with the unruly children in the street and his increasing affection for them may be the warmest he’s ever been—from grumpy old man to a softie who enjoys the weird energy of one kid who compliments him on his improved garden.
None of this is bad, but the emotional bandwidth of the show is remarkably shallow.
In years past, I could usually count on him to open a window into the recesses of my mind, shedding light on things maybe not spoken or shared aloud. But this is all surface. He’s written a travelogue of a slightly awkward pandemic when many of us have lived through something much more terrible.
Worse, his happy-go-lucky tales of lockdown life made me feel lonelier.