Daniel Kitson is an acquired taste. In the premiere of his newest one-actor creation, A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order at Studio’s Metheny Theatre, Kitson’s stage persona is part monk, part Detective Robert “Bobby” Goren, as well as pieces of Sherlock Holmes when Dr. Watson is not around to soften Holmes up. But, hot damn, Kitson is forthright and funny.
Know this: Kitson’s is a most assured, entertaining, dogged, winding-road; a sometimes head-scratching, sometimes fidget-inducing, Fringe-like story-teller. He is an obsessed citizen detective trying to solve a case to find the culprit(s) he thinks have caused an injury, if not worse, to a woman on a bicycle. And along the way there are many side journey from Kitson’s fertile mind into what he calls, with great amusement, his oeuvre (a word he pronounces as a very long one).
Kitson is a Brit better known (some use the word cult-following) in Britain. He has already performed in New York City with acclaim. His Studio show, A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order is part of Studio’s New Works Initiative.
So how to describe Kitson? At first blush, as he walks on stage without saying a word, he seems like one of those guys that are almost invisible, like many nondescript 40ish men seen commuting on Metro. No, better yet, let’s say this: given the premise of his Studio show, Kitson is one of those cyclist-types on his way down the center of a DC street with baseball cap firmly in place, as if he owns the road. He likes that you notice him and honk your horn. That notice gives him a life-force that was hidden before. After all, he is on his way to some non-descript, crappy GS-12/13 bureaucrat’s job somewhere deep in the government, with a boundless ability to code, and a far lesser ability to make and keep close friends.
Well, I soon learned that was way too a quick a negative observation on my part.
Key to my enjoyment of Kitson’s performance in A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order was his seemingly genuine sense of self-deprecation and acceptance of his stage persona as an “authentic” man with some very deep needs to be noticed and taken seriously as an amateur detective trying to solve a crime. And his meticulous nature came through soon enough as he tidied up, checking his on-stage props (including a lap-top, a projector, a screen, a chair and an incandescent light hanging down over a table) to make sure they were in order. He even explained his stammer.
Then he speaks. He tells the audience not to take what he will say as fact or real truth. He cajoles folk to pay attention, even admonishing a reviewer in the front row to put away her pad and pen and just listen, not write.
Soon enough he is off into a fast, deliberate, cadence. He is a practiced rushing river of words, thoughts and opinions. Kitson becomes a vivid story-teller par excellence with a sometimes chilly presence. He asks us to trust him as we journey with him, but should we? I for one did, and fell into what became his detective-like procedural with many a side story. A meandering narrative that begins when he comes across a bicycle accident and an injured woman. For the next intermission-free two hours, I gave him my attention.
How to describe his crime and punishment narrative? To go into any detail will ruin it. He was totally obsessive and totally into the hunt as he rambled, with purpose, getting from Point A to Point Z(ed). He was like Google Maps, with multiple choices of directions; some direct and quicker, others curvier, longer in time, but promising a more scenic drive. Kitson’s is the scenic option, with some additional pull-offs from a number of voice mails left by a woman who at times was less than enthralled with Kitson, and at other times was a Watergate-esque informant, pointing him in the right direction with bits and pieces of information, or merely to soften him before the audience.
At times, Kitson’s narrative could be like on-stage babbling into tedium. And yes, there was a time or two when I wanted him to get on with it, to get to the point more quickly. Then, as I began to fade, there was something Kitson said, or the way he said things, or how he flipped off the word “fuck” or spoke about white ghost bikes or mocked urban folk of privilege who ride bikes that would hook me again.
That’s it. Kitson was a person, not an act or actor to me at those times.
Kitson’s A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order is a beauty, and he has the practiced off-handedness of a verbal magician. Unlike scripted television shows or some popcorn movies, there are plenty of unexpected turns and twists in his story-telling, including the moment when Kitson and the voicemail friend connect to solve the crime. Now that was a head-spinner and marvel of entertaining understatement.
So now, let me pose this. If you enjoy A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order does that make you “hip” or whatever? Nope. Will it make you a “loser” if you don’t find the show your kinda taste? Nope. It is your taste that matters and I suspect taste and reactions will be wide if folks are honest. Some will go deep and some will stay on the surface.
Know that I left Studio Theatre thinking that Kitson’s A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order is one well-crafted, solo performance that is weirdly comic. I enjoy that kind of show. Then again, I have been reading “Weird New Jersey” for a long time. Do let me know what you think, OK?
Running Time: About two hours with no intermission.
A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order plays through November 25, 2017, at Studio Theatre’s Metheny Theatre – 1501 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets call (202) 332-3300, or purchase them online.