The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church is the story of a fictional Daniel Kitson (who looks and sounds a lot like the real storyteller and comedian Daniel Kitson) on a fictional journey of finding a cache of 30,000 letters including several suicide notes in an attic and sorting through them to discover the life of the letter writer, Gregory Church.
The show originated in 2009 and played New York in 2011. Kitson is streaming a filmed version of the show for a week at various times keyed to Australian, UK, and American audiences (you can watch any of these wherever you are in the world).
It’s a meditation on an unobserved life and finding meaning, connection, and sustenance from the mystery of a quiet life and death of a stranger. Kitson (the character) needs this project as he’s alone in London and his friends have all moved away. He uses the letters to fill his days and dive deep into the lives of people he’s never met. This feeds his own “pathological fondness for glimpsed lives” and he admits, “I’m something of an emotional hoarder.” A pile of forgotten/abandoned letters is too much for him to bear. He “gorg[es] [him]self on the secrecy” of them.
Gregory Church writes his initial letters out of anger, frustration, resignation, and sadness. Somehow, they lead him to making new friends and giving him a purpose, much like Kitson’s project does for him.
In 2011, I found my way to The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church not knowing that I too needed it in much the same way. I was really miserable and not sure why I was still in New York City. Many friends had left the city. I was buried in work. I was getting so little pleasure out of my New York life and wondering why I had stayed. I had never heard of Daniel Kitson before and had fallen out of theatergoing for a while. But this show inadvertently started my journey to writing and renewed my interest in theater.
At the time, I loved the rapid-fire, colorful language of it and the twists and turns in the characters’ lives. But also, I was the type of person to “rescue” old books and photographs of people I did not know, and wonder what kind of story I was preserving with my actions. It felt handcrafted for me and though I may not have recognized it immediately in the moment it was the universe giving me a sign.
As the years have gone on and I have become a collector of Kitson shows, I see how Kitson returns to these themes—inanimate objects full of meaning, lonely characters finding singular connections, unexpected coincidences that lead to life-affirming moments. Also, growling, verbose curmudgeons are his specialty and Church is one of those.
For all this specific Kitsonalia, the show functions in a different way while many of us are in quarantine. At one point, Gregory Church writes in his letter that “No human being has chosen to speak to me in six months.” While we may not be quite at six months yet, perhaps we might feel his isolation more acutely. Kitson (the character), Church, and many of us are “feel[ing] the absence of other people” in our quiet at-home lives right now.
While I may be quarantining alone, I’m not lonely. Fuck other people—I’m kidding, I miss my friends and conversations in person, and leaving my house. Although I am enjoying some element of a slowed-down, quiet existence.
The moment that resonated the most was Kitson speaking about the looming weight of nearing the end reading the pile of letters. He dreaded the inevitable loss of people/voices/characters that had been so sustaining to him.
While friends have complained about struggling to start projects, I have been avoiding ending things. It sounds silly, but I was watching a TV show I was absolutely smitten with. I was not even halfway through the season when I went back to the beginning and started watching it all over again. I was preemptively sad the characters would leave me and my daily time with them would be no longer. I had to artificially extend the experience. I could not emotionally cope with it being over (I’ve since rewatched the series three times and as far as I am concerned it’s now medicinal). Letting go is hard when so much has been taken away.
While recordings cannot totally capture live performance, Gregory Church still manages to give you a full Kitson experience with unintended asides, distractions which cause him to fall into a giggling fit, and him losing his place quite dramatically in the middle of the show and asking if anyone else has seen his show before and could help him find his place. In life, I might have been charmed by such a detour, but on the recording this is when I left my computer and got a snack.
The opportunity to revisit this personally pivotal show, also forced me to consider what has changed since 2011. I’m a very different person now.
In 2011, saving the pieces of paper in my life was so important. But in 2020, my project in quarantine has been to throw away my own boxes of letters and what I call “emotional childhood paper.” I have cracked open these boxes to find mean notes passed in class, many letters with a British pen pal (Hey Mads where are you now?), postcards to my grandparents from people I’ve never heard of, notes to my teachers from my mother at wits end dealing with me, letters from people I cannot even picture in my mind, and an unreasonable number of birthday invitations sent to me as a child.
Each piece of paper carries with it the emotional jetlag of opening up the past. I think how much lighter it might be to live without them now.