Daniel Kitson made his Washington, D.C. debut at the Studio Theatre with a new storytelling show called A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order (or ASSODPHICO). Except that’s not the show he’s doing. Or is it?
He opens with an extended introduction explaining to this audience that he was invited to do his previous story, Mouse, but he decided to write something new for the current political climate. And yet, he explains (regardless of what the marketing materials might say) that’s not the show we are about to see. He launches into a story about how he got distracted from writing that political show by witnessing the aftermath of a late night bicycle accident where the injured cyclist being loaded into an ambulance winks at him.
After the accident, he finds a piece of paper from a South London cycling club which sets him off on a quest to learn about the injured bicyclist and then the club itself. Fictional Kitson (he insists the story he is telling is not true–albeit some parts are true but it is more fiction than not) puts on his Sherlock Holmes cap (literally a baseball cap) and delves into a pile of detritus he has acquired through the ex-wife of the cycling club treasurer. With a slideshow of examples from this treasure trove, Kitson parses the cycling club’s correspondence to the local newspaper from one of their leaders, Chris Clough, their ledger and expense receipts over the years, and photographs and advertisements from the club.
However, as non-fictional Kitson was telling this story I was struck by how similar it was to the structure of The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church. Kitson is always stealing from himself but in recalling Gregory Church (which was my introduction to Kitson in 2011) that was a story he insisted was not true and which involved a series of letters which build the framework of the show. Yet the stakes were much higher in Gregory Church (the letters made up the character’s suicide note after all) and emotional engagement was too. Or at least my memory of it. With Kitson refusing to document his work, often all we are left with are our fuzzy memories to serve as the record of what came before.
In another return to form, Kitson is using a recorded foil (his frequent collaborator for the past couple of shows, Isy Suttie) to be a character in the storytelling via pre-recorded bits he plays alongside his slides and performance. These recorded voices have become a bit of a crutch for him. It permits him a perspective that challenges his own and yet because it is strictly controlled it’s losing its punch with repeated usage.
While he was his playful self in ASSODPHICO (teasing the audience, handling hecklers, getting distracted), the work, as has been the case with the last couple of shows, feels bloated and meandering without a strong payoff for such diversions.
In the past, I have not minded the non-linear nature of Kitson’s storytelling because those tendrils of tangential narrative have been vivid, funny, and alive. They often feed back into the work as a whole in the end. Here, even the central story is not as grippingly human as one might expect from a Kitson tale. His passion for the subject isn’t quite infectious. You can still enjoy his sublime use of language and his approach to the telling of it but the core of the story does not immediately reveal itself as a remarkable one. Even once the fictional truth was made plain there was still a lingering question in my mind as to whether the journey together was worth it.
After Kitson’s controversial stand-up show from this past summer, Something Other Than Everything, I wondered if he had intentionally backed off his political focus. He wore identity politics in that stand-up show like an ill-fitted shirt. Or maybe he was trying to stretch a political metaphor out of this cycling club dispute. It does involve two groups of passionate people but with different agendas and they tear the club apart. Cyclexit?
There is a moral he’s trying to convey through fictional Kitson’s fanaticism for the cycling club’s ideology and the enticing rhetoric of Chris Clough but not the kind that re-blossoms thinking back on the show. Usually, Kitson’s magician-like misdirection leads you to not pay attention to the thing right in front of you and once it is revealed, you enjoy questioning all that’s come before. This structure often comes with an emotional reckoning for the audience too. But the discoveries he makes about his fictional self here are less revealing, powerful, or resonant than other Kitson stories.
There have been moments when Kitson has come to America with a new piece and it was by no means ready (Analogue 1.0 I’m looking at you). ASSODPHICO may not be the utter shambles of Analogue but it needs more shaping in idea and execution. I know that’s hard to believe for diehard fans who think the man impervious to fault. I too have bandied around the word “genius” frequently in his vicinity. But sometimes he does work that is just “fine” and even a little tiresome if you’ve seen all this before. Without question, he’s getting laughs and there’s his inescapable storytelling charm but without solid meaning it dissipates as quickly as it came. Kitson was once reliable for a sustained storytelling high that lasted weeks. Have I taken too many hits of his brand of whimsy?
Maybe ardent fans would not care. They would lap up his words and cozy conceptual hot chocolate o’clockolate with no thoughts to anything amiss–good laughs, a pause to think, a pleasant evening all around. But when you know what else he’s capable of it’s hard to rave about this weaker fare.