Living in the modern world, we are constantly the bystander to, or observer of, the life events of others. Be they consequential and indelible, or fleeting and forgettable, these seemingly disconnected series of events serve as context to our community’s larger story. The more we notice and choose to connect, the better we understand the relationships that bind us all. For those already familiar with Daniel Kitson’s fourth-wall-breaking, unfiltered, and hilariously sporadic delivery, that might seem almost too deep for his latest work—A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order playing at Studio Theatre—and yet through the tangents and outbursts, torrent of focus and side notes, it is the common thread that pulls the story along: the challenge of following a series of events and adjusting our perception based on the contexts we allow ourselves to expand to in order to gain a greater understanding.
Daniel Kitson, courtesy of his Wikipedia page.
Tapping into truly expert observational comedy and unleashing razor-sharp wit, Kitson’s monologue show is genius. Staged as a sparsely furnished office with a Macbook, projector, notebook, and single bulb light, Kitson talks with the audience, riffing and poking fun like a stand-up comedian warming up the audience. What seems to start off as a casual audience talkback about the creative process of developing his show dedicated to seemingly unconnected disagreements—from the correct pronunciation of quinoa to the gun control or a neighborly quarrel over a backyard fence—quickly blurred into the peculiar mystery of a late night bicycling accident. With the tangential organization of someone unable to concentrate on any one subject for longer than 15 seconds, Kitson balanced his need to write A Short Series of Disagreements with his need to satisfying unquenchable curiosity into the circumstances of the accident that he had witnessed and the white ghost bike that had since appeared. The streams of thought, anecdotes, and quirky ticks were unending as Kitson’s focus slowly shifted from trying to write A Short Series of Disagreements separately and telling this cycling story.
A story that is entirely fictional, by the way, as Kitson stated at the beginning of the show–and yet to enter into his tale was to see reality reflected. His masterful storytelling guided the audience, laughing or cringing, from conclusion to debunked conclusion. Using ledger notes, receipts, pictures, voicemail messages, slides, and a persistently earnest need to share his journey of discovery, Kitson transitioned from telling you what he’s going to write his play about to focusing on the unraveling of a South London cycling club. We, as the audience, followed the red string he was pinning to the proverbial wall, forming our own assumptions about the facts and the events. Kitson was on an obsessive mission to complete the puzzle he had come upon even if he was unaware of the final picture.
It was this constant, obsessive drive to get to the bottom of the mystery, as Kitson perceived it, that formed the main arch of the show. Many of the characters (all relayed through Kitson’s curious, borderline conspiracy theorist monologue) were happy to remain with their incomplete, if not harmfully incorrect, assumptions about the events they witnessed. One self-proclaimed neighborhood watch type character in particular did not care to learn more. He was perfectly content seeing what he saw and understanding it the way he did; not needing to put it in any larger context, while Kitson was voraciously opposite. He scavenger hunted through the pulse of the story, walking a thin line between on-stage action and off-stage moral. Kitson constantly pushed himself, the story he was trying to write, and the audience as passengers to discover larger and greater contexts through which to view the facts as we knew them. It’s through his persistence (be it accidental, habitual, or obsessive) that the guilt or innocence of individuals shifted polarity dramatically, opinions on what was just for fun or for revenge reversed continuously, and every assumption overturned regarding the details of a seemingly inconsequential cycling club fleshed out the framework with which we understood all that came before.
Incredibly timely in today’s social and political climate, A Short Series of Disagreements challenges you to continue asking why, to continue connecting the pieces, to continue correcting yourself when you discover you’re in the wrong, and to continue pushing yourself to understand the larger context as a habitual, necessary guard against the convoluted modern world. A Short Series of Disagreements becomes a story about the framework of active participation to what we are observing, and when applied to the context of a larger world it becomes even more powerful for us as a society. Dig deeper to find the context that illuminates the facts. Do not be content with what is initially presented to you, follow the story, correct yourself when you are wrong, and piece together what may or may not be staring you in the face.
Taking a very local, very human series of interactions and spinning them into an incredibly intricate web of coincidence and conscious choice, Kitson’s wonderfully funny and delightfully clever tale of writer’s block and discovery exposes something much deeper. With banter that combines your crazy uncle at the dinner table and that weird guy on the metro shouting a story at you while you wait for a train, this quirky “the world is going down in flame, let’s have a cup of tea and a chat” humor was the perfect lens through which to examine the whys of life. Ask why until you can’t ask it any more and that will be the moment in which you’ve arrived at a nugget of truth.