A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order
by John Stoltenberg
He might have had an interesting idea for a solo show. He hadn’t written it yet. but he told Studio Theatre, which had booked him, that its title would be A Short Series of Disagreements Presented Here in Chronological Order. An accomplished comic monologuist with an avid fan base in Britain, Daniel Kitson was going to make his debut in DC at the instigation of Studio Artistic Director David Muse, himself a Kitson fan, with a world premiere new work. So far so good.
Kitson intended to tell a story TBD, through a succession of disagreements—which on the face of it sounds pretty brilliant. Also an apt theatrical form for a town where dysfunctional disputation has secured political gridlock. But with his show not yet written—and being himself notoriously reluctant to do press or even supply promo photos—Kitson left the good folks who do Studio’s marketing with little to go on but his title.
The description they came up with would have impressed Roget:
A brand-new story told entirely through the peripheries and pivot points of a number of debates, wrangles, quarrels, arguments, discussions, altercations, contretemps, and squables.
A brand-new show which is likely to be both funny and thoughtful, absurd and serious, rich with humanity and riddled with frustration.
When I read that—and when I saw the nondescript type treatment with which the mystery monologue would be branded—I felt a kind of bemused sympathy, for it all seemed to be silently screaming, “Help, we are stuck in a flack factory with no clue what we’re plugging.”
Little could the good folks at Studio know that there was one thing about their vague promo that was fundamentally accurate—because Kitson’s show would turn out to seem padded too.
Now to be fair, Kitson is a brilliant talking writer. Many of his phrasings tripped off his tongue and tickled my intellect the way Wilde does or even Shaw (just to mention a few of his quick-witted countrypeople). Kitson’s brain is so evidently wired for verbal virtuosity I could honestly not tell if his textual felicities were prescripted or improvised. And given that Kitson himself has a very mild sporadic stutter (which he acknowledges in such a clever way that for us it goes away), his ability to captivate simply with rapid-fire language would be the envy of many a solo performer who’s stutter-free.
Early on Kitson also acknowledges that the title A Short Series of Disagreements… has totally nothing to do with the show he’s doing, because a couple months ago when on looming deadline he began writing it, he decided to do something else entirely. Fair enough. Maverick spontaneity is as much Kitson’s schtick as it is theater’s lifeblood. Nevertheless, upon sitting through the two-hour show Kitson has brought to DC, I did again feel for the good folks at Studio who had been—by my reckoning, not theirs—blindsided.
In Whatever Kitson’s Current Show at Studio Should Be Called, he talks us through the process of writing it and tells a tale that begins when he happened upon a bicyclist, hit by a car on the road, who he thinks winked at him as she was loaded into an ambulance. There follows a long and convoluted story, illustrated with photos projected on a screen from a carousel projector, in which like a forensic detective on RedBull, Kitson tracks down the biker’s backstory.
I caught Whatever well into its run. A mostly young audience had come. Those in the center section seemed to be enjoying it quite a lot. This was likely because, as I surmised, when Kitson turns his head from side to side to sweep in the whole audience, as he does constantly, he remains fully audible only to those in the middle. And it was from there most laughter emanated. The side section where I sat was pretty still.
About a half hour in, probably sensing quietude in the house, Kitson lobbed an adlib that got the biggest laugh all night. It went something like “We’re not even at the point that the Post called wearying.”
Kitson evidently eschews high tech (that projector was determinedly not LCD). But for the sake of the whole house, he really needed to be mic’ed. Never mind that the snapshots and scribbled documents he showed us onscreen were inscrutably small, and useless to our comprehension of the shaggy dog story with which we were being regaled. We just needed to hear more of his delicious eleventh-hour writing. Though Kitson has not succeeded here as a long-form comic scribe, all the good bits along the way deserved better.
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.