NOTE: Not really spoiler-y but a few bits and punchlines are revealed by the review below.
Daniel Kitson took off his glasses to rub his itchy eyes and suddenly I did not recognize him. Although he shaved his head and signature beard last year for his show Where Once Was Wonder, this brief, intimate moment where the master was unmasked, was more jarring for me. Kitson's new show After the Beginning. Before the End is powered by reflections about his own solitude, memory, and attractions, and this literal peek behind the wizard's curtain was the unintentional exercise of some of the shows themes. Not only is Kitson setting out to look at who he is but he is trying to understand who he is refracted through the eyes of others. And sometimes he does not even recognize himself.
Daniel Kitson has brought his philosophically driven stand-up show to New York for one week at the Barrow Street Theatre. After touring around the UK for the last couple of months, the show arrives in New York similar but tighter than the show I saw and reviewed in June. There are a few notable differences between those shows and the New York shows worth mentioning.
Kitson has had to begrudgingly adapt and edit for the American audience--apparently we do not wave to farmers whilst wanking on trains like the folks in the UK do. Who knew? He was perturbed by the paucity of American English. Because of this certain words are Americanized, stories get dropped, and he is forced, with a heavy heart, to explain some of the jokes that did not require explanation for his homegrown audience. Nevertheless, American audiences do seem to warm to it.* He does not want credit for things that he has not earned, so he is also quick to explain away the Buyer & Cellar set he is using before someone spends time trying to analyze the "semiotics" of a background that is not his.
The show seems to me** to be broken into three major parts: Being Alone, Memory, and Self.*** He addresses his thirty-something, affluent life without a relationship or kids. I love his whimsical delusion about the unexplained light left on in his bathroom. He explores the vicissitudes of memory. There is a bit that came up in some shows but not in others about how we polish memories. It's an image that I can't get out of my mind. How perhaps the most untrustworthy memories are those that we return to over and over again, revising them by our constant revisiting. And in the end he delves into questions of self and attraction. There are bookends to the show--bits of similar language, jokes structured in similar ways--but you would be forgiven for not noticing them. It took me four viewings to catch them.
As I discussed in my previous review, the use of sound in this show was unexpected. It is like a specific room tone he is setting, which he occasionally adjusts to suit a shift in the storytelling--a playful circus-like sound for stories of childhood, a thumping sound for tales about sex, a repetitive strings sound for something else I have not yet been able to identify. With more viewings I saw the connection to the narrative, but I still wonder how much it adds to an already dense show.
Moments of exhilarating autonomy, defiance and self-assurance at the beginning seem to fade with additional pondering. As someone who has sent a lot of pictures of his dick to other people, he wonders if maybe he is not as good as he thought with being on his own. His solitary life has its perks but has a pattern begun to emerge? Or is the perspective skewed? Is this merely a moment and not a pattern at all.
Each time I've seen the show, the moment that catches me is when Kitson stops to wonder aloud if he will remember this part of his life as time goes on (one of the shows in the UK did not even have this bit but I think it acts as an important reflection point in the show). He talks about certain events experienced that are best left buried in the recesses of his mind. And in this time where his thoughts are circular and unmoored, his solitude present and structure absent, it seems this is something he hopes to forget.
This all sounds a bit depressing--and of course I am always drawn to the darker aspects of comedy-- but it is not a depressing show. There is much laughter, silliness, and levity. He takes down smug parents with sharp jabs, illustrates sense memory with a tale from his childhood that is gut-busting, recounts a particularly hilarious accidental email he received from a fan, and has made me very self-conscious about all the dresses I have with pockets in them. And you may even find him laughing at himself. He got very distracted by his own laughter at one show and chided himself aloud for it. He then reminded himself that that chiding should be internal.
Oh man deconstruction makes me hot.
If the show was not already sold out, I'd recommend you see it for yourself. He'll be back in New York in November with a new theater show at St. Ann's Warehouse so you might have another chance to experience Daniel Kitson.
* There are still certain bits that I think are hilarious that are not quite landing as well as they did in the UK--fuck you all that callback about the black goose is funny. I wonder if the late hour--the show starts at 10pm in NY and started earlier in the UK--mixed with the deep dive into philosophy, blended with a two hour running time make it more challenging for audiences to follow the complicated callbacks and thematic strands. Or arguably I've seen the show too much and am having a thematically appropriate overthink about this. But still, if you are not laughing at the "ever vigilant" line you are missing out on the best bits. THE BEST BITS.
**He notes that when people email him about his show they almost always get it wrong. So...
***These feel oddly to me like an almost real Sondheim tune, an actual Andrew Lloyd Webber ditty and as-yet-unwritten Pasek and Paul number.