Not too long ago, monologist and comedian Daniel Kitson was riding his bicycle on a dark London street when he braked at the sight of an injured woman being lifted into an ambulance on a stretcher. Impossibly, the she looked right at him — and winked.
Lisa Chiu is not the Culture Curmudgeon, she’s just filling in. She’s a digital producer at CGTN America. Her analysis represents her views alone.
So begins the premiere of “A Short Series Of Disagreements Presented Here In Chronological Order” now playing at the Studio Theatre in Washington D.C. — Kitson’s brilliant telling of his quest to understand this woman and the circumstances that led to her injury and subsequent death.
Along the way he — and really we — become immersed in the movements of a group known as the South London Association of Recreational Cyclists (ARC) who’s motto was: “No Lycra, No Dickheads”.
Through sheer persistence, Kitson got his hands on the group’s leftover documents, where he gleans delicate and often wrong narratives on the lives of its founders using minutes of meetings, photographs, store receipts, and letters to the editor.
With a sparing set of a desk, a notebook, a carousel slide projector, and audio recordings, Kitson is simultaneously a detective, a historian, a journalist, and the would-be protagonist in an unfolding romantic comedy. Fans of the podcasts “Serial” and “S-Town” might find this premise especially compelling.
Each whirr of the projector is a opportunity for Kitson to share his trip to the rabbit hole — and he has found a kindred spirit in South London ARC member Chris Clough.
Reading Clough’s letters to the editor to a local newspaper, it’s obvious Kitson has serious mancrush.
“Puddles are opportunities,” Kitson gushes of Clough’s words.
“There’s a hill in South London that I hate more than Hitler,” he reads and muses.
As a cyclist himself, you can easily see Kitson as a member of such a wacky group. And you feel his disappointment when he uncovers how the group’s makeup and politics changed over time, eventually leading to the ouster of his beloved hero, Chris Clough.
The show is billed as being both “absurd and serious” and told through “an undetermined number of debates, wrangles, quarrels, arguments, discussion, tiffs, altercations, contretemps, and squabbles.” And it doesn’t disappoint.
Kitson details numerous disagreements between Clough and the South London ARC, there is the larger disagreement of bicycles vs. cars, and there’s even disagreements between Kitson and the audience. On opening night, he broke his narrative twice to shout at audience members that had looked at their phones.
“What you looking at your phone for?” he shouted to one audience member.
“I was just checking the time,” the man answered sheepishly.
“There’s a lot more to go mate,” he responded and then gleefully flipped through his notebook.
And then there’s Kitson himself, a walking contradiction — the visible embodiment of a disagreement.
He advertises that he’s “well-regarded but bald-headed” and looks like a bearded bartender that enjoys schooling patrons on Marx. As the show begins, he says he offers “genre defying comedy” and is “actually quite a big deal”. (This is true, he sold out the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 43 minutes)
More contradictions: The “short series” is 2 hours and 40 minutes without intermission, and oh by the way, he prefaces his tale with: “Every word of the story is false, but obviously, some bits are true.”
It’s difficult to glean a main message to Kitson’s show, I struggled to find bits from his storytelling snowflakes before they fell to the ground and melted — That inquiry is worth investigating. That disputes should be dissected. That there’s always consequences. That everything can be funny?
In the end I concluded that maybe he’s just very good storyteller who loves what he does.
And then, a few days after Kitson’s show, I was walking in D.C. — a city that has the second-largest percentage of bike commuters among big cities in the U.S — and passed by a white ghost bike chained to a post. And I began my own investigation.
Who made this bike and why? Why isn’t this bike listed on the worldwide ghost bike map? Could it be because the cyclist was hit by a pickup truck after he pedaled through a red light? But wait, why do cyclists routinely run red lights? Is it because sometimes it’s safer for them to do so than obey traffic rules?
Oh, Kitson, you got me. There really is so much more to go…
Kitson will be at the Studio Theatre until Nov. 25, 2017.