Is there a more endearing solo performer than Daniel Kitson? I can’t think of one. Squinting behind bottle-thick glasses, shambling around the stage, lisping and stuttering his long, looping, lyrical lines while chuckling about his own deficiencies as a performer, he has the kind of disarming nerd-savant presence that permits the poignancy of his material to sneak up on you.
The English monologist’s new piece, It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later—currently playing at St. Ann’s Warehouse—operates in the strange zone where stand-up meets existential parable. It takes the long view of two parallel ordinary lives, a man and woman, William and Caroline, who never met, never fell in love, never knew each other (Kitson is careful to let us know these important facts up front). The two barely brushed paths only once, getting on and off the same bus on a rainy afternoon. But, like many seemingly insignificant details in Kitson’s writing, this incident is charged with existential force: William, a recluse and misanthrope, spent his life slowly withdrawing from life, shedding friends and lovers along the way—he got off the bus before he needed to. Caroline manages to find lifelong love and fragile security, ensuring a fruitful future: offspring, domestic contentment. (In another telling juxtaposition, Caroline, on the eve of her death, asks her husband to plant an orchard in the backyard, knowing she may never see the fruit; William, visiting a nursery one day, balks at the idea of sowing trees that will outlast him.) As its title forewarns, It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later wrenchingly shows how offhand decisions and inarticulate impulses can determine the course of our lives—aggregating possibilities or limitations, joy or despair as we bumble unknowingly along.
The elegant structure of Kitson’s script underlines this idea: He reels in William’s biography backwards, proceeding from disappointment and lonely death to youth and potentiality. Caroline’s life, more open to the unknown, unspools forwards—the two narratives crisscross, briefly, at the bus stop, before diverging again, racing toward the future and the past. Surveying human pushing and striving from omniscient heights, Kitson relays the pair’s increasingly disparate lives as a series of decisive moments, pointillist dots arrested from the stream of time. For William, these are frequently occasions for remorse as he struggles to preserve memories, or ruminates on the unintended consequences of bygone choices; for Caroline, each interval indexes a spill of possibilities, hurtful or happy, but always new. Sometimes, Kitson’s mastery of the telling detail takes him to the very edge of twee-ness, as humdrum happenings turn outrageously significant, or descriptions get calibrated for maximum humorous effect—but he always leavens sentimentality with irony and arch self-awareness.
Onstage at St. Ann’s, a forest of hanging lightbulbs embodies the piece’s constellation of resuscitated moments—eloquently lighting up as Kitson shuffles over to describe them, and winking out as he, and with him, time, moves on. (Later on, when the lights get a little blurry, you might find that it’s because you’re in tears—I was, anyway.)
Throughout, Kitson keeps up a (hilarious) running meta-commentary on his own performance and general state of mind—ruing a gaffed entrance, asking his techs to turn off a distracting light, mulling over the differences between English and American audiences, making self-deprecating asides about his merits as an actor, proffering extempore translations from English to American (“ladybird” to “ladybug”). Whether spontaneous or artfully rehearsed—one suspects the latter, but who knows?—these interruptions, set off from the flow of theatrical time like the points on life’s graph he isolates from his characters’ narratives, remind us that we’re all spending this passage of irreplaceable existence together. As we roam backwards and forwards through our own memories, drifting with the rhythms of Kitson’s fable, we’re left wondering how our casual decisions will someday add up to a life.