Daniel Kitson is undeniably brilliant and audacious. The bearded, bespectacled and balding writer/performer possesses an extraordinary ability to grip audiences with nothing but his ferocious intellect and imaginative, highly-detailed prose stories, which he unspools alone on empty stages with irresistible brio. Kitson, a fussy Brit from Yorkshire with roots in stand-up comedy, has previously packed St. Ann's Warehouse with two solo shows in as many years, and he's currently back in DUMBO for a third go-round, this time with a world premiere, Analog.Ue. He's lugged a whole mess of Thatcher-era cassette players with him.
The brisk, 70-minute production begins with Kitson standing at the far end of the vast, dark warehouse (this is St. Ann's temporary new home, until it relocates to a permanent space at the old Tobacco Warehouse). For a New Yorker accustomed to cramped environs, the sheer vastness of the space feels absolutely luxuriant and almost therapeutic—St. Ann's could sell tickets just to let people run around and soak up the elbow room. There's a chair off to one side, where Kitson occasionally pauses to rest from the labors that absorb him for the next hour and change, but aside from a mixing board and that pile of old tape players against the back wall, you're gazing into a dark void.
Analog.Ue, as befitting its title, is a palpably physical performance for Kitson, who spends the evening laboriously dragging out a remarkably complicated array of old tape players one at a time, arranging them in a web-like pattern on the floor, patching them into a central mixing board, and pressing play. Each tape contains part of a bifurcated narrative concerning an elderly man tasked by his beloved wife to record the story of his life in the garage on a single day in 1975. The other half of the story begins some three decades later and proceeds backwards in time, telling the tale of a woman, apparently his daughter, who has become obsessed with the rather undramatic life documented therein.
These stories are told by Kitson in a third-person narrative—you're not listening to the old man directly tell the story of his life, but rather Kitson's description of him struggling to get started with the overwhelming chore in his garage. (His wife has told him he can't leave until he's done, but generously deposits snacks outside the door.) The story of the story is at turns funny and heartbreaking, but mostly melancholy. Kitson is adept at evoking life's solitary and seemingly unexceptional moments with vivid detail, in a way that often makes you wonder how fictional his characters really are.
Kitson, here on stage in real life, doesn't say a single word; the most important part of his performance occurred in the past, and he's now in Brooklyn to conduct, as it were, his atavistic analogue orchestra. For a story that dwells so much on the past and fading memory, this theatrical device makes sense, but it's a risky choice, and comes at a cost. Kitson is such an appealing performer that it's frustrating to watch him perform from such a guarded remove. I wanted Kitson the storyteller to engross me in the present, not administer to an audio simulacrum of Kitson in the past. For all its analogue complexity, there is essentially little difference between this "live" performance and a really great podcast.
It's worth noting, perhaps, that Kitson has a speech impediment, which makes his talent for transporting you with the spoken word all the more impressive. In Analog.Ue, for the first time in my experience, his story is told without a single stutter, the words on the tapes flowing together seamlessly as if Kitson always has and always will speak without difficulty. One imagines there's something deeply satisfying for Kitson, ever the obsessive, to hold forth at length without his speech getting in the way. But he's made himself absent in the process, and for a solo performer with such idiosyncratic charisma, this proves disappointing.
Analog.Ue continues at St. Ann's Warehouse through December 21st. Tickets cost $25.