Daniel Kitson’s D.C. World Premiere

daniel-kitsonThere was sufficient buzz about the booking of a new Daniel Kitson show at Studio Theatre this season that they would apparently take anything.

The British storyteller, the darling of Edinburgh Festival Fringe, has already whipped up his own fervent fan base in New York to the degree that he doesn’t have to do interviews or any other publicity. There are no programs to hand out; the tickets just say “kitson.” He doesn’t even have to tell a booking theater exactly what he’ll be performing.

Kitson, 40, comes right out and explains all that in a leisurely start to the two hour “A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order,” which he begins by darting on stage in his rumpled worksheet and ball cap, saying “Hullo” brusquely and taking his seat at a wooden desk lit by an overhead bulb, in the manner of monologuists before him like Spalding Gray.

In addition to his notebook, to which he refers frequently, there is a laptop, from which he plays audio phone messages (that allow him to take a breath) and a series of the dullest slides you’d ever want to see. All to illustrate the story which he eventually begins telling – about a late night bicycle accident he happens upon, his curiosity about the young woman whisked away in an ambulance and his detective work regarding the cycling club that she may or may not be a part of.

All of this he looks into while avoiding writing the world premiere play he would be doing for us, he says. Although he prefaces the performance by saying everything is untrue, it’s hard not to think that he actually did come up empty of ideas following earlier shows like “Mouse – The Persistence of an Unlikely Thought,” “Stories for the Wobbly -Hearted” and “It’s Always Right Now Until It’s Later.” (In fact, several of his previous titles could have served for this one: “Something,” “A Made Up Story” and particularly “An Insufficient Number of Undeveloped Ideas Over Ninety Testing Minutes”).

But that is his premise: He is telling all this about the phantom bicycle accident victim and her club because that’s how he busied himself in the past month while he was supposed to be getting ready for his D.C. debut.

Kilson is a quite an amusing fellow, with a mile-a-minute mind, making connections and asides such that viewers can’t always quite keep up (especially those who can’t always follow the accent). Because it was a press performance, he stopped a front row reviewer mid-sentence to demand she drop her pencil lest she throw him off. Even so, he paused during the performance to suggest certain lines for the review, as when he admitted his stutter (“So brave!”).

Kitson is the kind of guy who’d be a hoot at the next barstool, bantering brightly about just about anything. But at some point in “A Short Series of Blah Blah Blah” there was a point where maybe you wanted the play to actually be about something. As the show took to the details of the paperwork he found regarding the cycling club, and his recitation of their logs, things got awfully dull. The jokes even went out for a smoke.

Maybe because of the English accent and constant asides, but it was like watching the wonkiest main segment on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” except four times as long. There is a difference between a fringe appearance and a full night of theater.

There may have been a minor revelation in the show’s final minutes, regarding the nature of everything he was obsessing over. There just might have been a metaphor about the topsy-turvy nature of information we receive; a thought that everything we know is wrong. In Washington, in 2017, this might have been a relevant thing for an acclaimed English playwright to have presented in his D.C. debut.

But no. I think he was actually perversely interested in bike clubs.

Had you been with Kitson at the bar, you would have long since moved to another stool before he got close to completing his conspiracy theory.

Nobody clapped when Kitson extinguished the lamp above the desk. Not until the lights came on again and he declared, “It’s quite clear it’s over.” Well, yes.

And with it, lessons learned. Don’t believe everything you see — from bike accidents to notices about acclaimed monologists. And for the theater, maybe enquire a little more earnestly about what exactly is in the works.


A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order runs through Nov. 25 at Studio Theatre, Washington, D.C.

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