First Nighter: Daniel Kitson Strides Again at St. Ann's Warehouse

12/04/2013 11:54 pm ET | Updated Feb 03, 2014

Daniel Kitson is not only a marvelous story-teller. He may be our foremost meta-storyteller, and possibly because there is no other candidate. But he doesn't earn the title merely by default, he is truly ground-breaking at what he's done in the past at St. Ann's Warehouse by way of It's Always Right Now Until It's Later and The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church and what he's currently doing there with Analog.Ue.

He's not only fascinated by stories, he's obsessed with the notion of how they're told. That's certainly the impetus behind his new one, although at the outset he mentions that what the audience is about to hear will involve, among other things, time, possibility and yogurt--or since Kitson is English, perhaps we should use the English spelling "yoghurt."

It may be that with Analog.Ue, the how of the storytelling is at least as important as the story itself. Maybe even more so. For the burly, bearded Kitson doesn't speak a word of the tale during the 75-minute performance.

What he does is cart tape recorders from a table approximately 30 yards opposite the audience to an area within just a few feet of the bleachers where he attaches them to a large outlet. The burden of the presentation is transmitted from these machines piecemeal--the first of which has Kitson, recorded, "speaking from the past." Throughout, observers can tell which machine is on by its lit red, green or yellow light.

As Kitson carries on carting the recorders while speaking from them, he unfolds the history of the late Thomas Martin Taplow, encouraged sometime in the past by his wife Gertrude, or Gertie, to record everything he can about his not necessarily uncommon life. Whereupon, she gives him a new device annually on which he indeed does recite his autobiography.

Some decades later, his daughter Trudy Livingstone, born October 26, 1977--the date is often repeated--comes upon the recorders, tracks down the widely dispersed tapes and attempts to put them together chronologically. So as Kitson hurries back and forth, it's not Taplow's committing everything about everything to tape that he recites from the accumulating recorders. It's the story of Thomas Taplow's aural adventures and Trudy's trying to reorganize them.

So there you have it: a story about patching together a story. But there you only have some of it. Or some of the implications, because, among other concerns, Kitson is eager to make points about the effect the past has on the future as well as the contrast in the present between the hope for the future and the immutability of the past. At a later point, he even reiterates the opening remark about speaking from the past and adds, "Everything is better here."

Along the way, he makes other abundantly sassy comments that won't be revealed here. Why spoil the fun? On the other hand, maybe it isn't unfair to mention that the discourse on possibility is really a discussion of the impossible. In a few deft sentences he argues that frequently the impossible is only a temporary condition, implying that eventually anything and everything can become possible.

A list of rules is also enumerated, one of which is "If you're not wearing socks, don't wear shoes." An interesting contention. Incidentally, yogurt (yoghurt?) figures in as a regular part of the Taplow diet but not as either an especially exciting or unexciting element.

Previously, Kitson has imparted his stories live, usually pacing in an arena with the audience on four sides of him. So this silent mode is a departure. Yet, it's very much a metaphorical representation of the story he's after. He's building it in a manner obliquely suggestive of the efforts Trudy made for her compilation.

The method does have its drawback--a crimp similar to having a clock on stage during a play supposedly taking place in real time. There Kitson is, trudging up and back with the recorders on a table in plain view. It doesn't take long for spectators to suss out that the enterprise will end when Kitson hauls the last recorder to the front of his stage. It's the rare on-looker who won't be tempted to estimate the number of recorders still to be lugged forth. Perhaps if Kitson kept them out of sight, he'd solve that small problem.

Also, there's an irony attached to Kitson's dedication to storytelling. It's that he's wary of telling his own story. A former (reformed?) stand-up comic, he allows no program to be distributed--therefore no bio--nor does he take a bow. When the last recorder shuts off as the final tape ends with an audible snap, the lights go instantly to black. And that's that. But so what? He's entitled. If telling the stories of others he's imagined is a strategy for avoiding his own, so be it. The ones he's telling and the ways by which he's choosing to tell them is undeniably masterful.