NEW YORK—The past can be alluring, wonderfully nostalgic, and a terrible trap. This point is brilliantly brought home by Daniel Kitson, storyteller extraordinaire, in his latest offering Analog.Ue, now at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
Kitson actually relates two distinct but interrelated stories, each prerecorded. One takes place during the course of an October day in 1977 in the life of Thomas Martin Caplow. The other starts in 2011, flashes backward to 1977, and concerns Trudy Amelia Livingston.
Thomas, a man of 80, has been persuaded to record his life story at the urging of Gerty, his loving wife of four decades. His story will be spoken into 38 different tape machines the couple has acquired over the years.
At first Thomas is not particularly interested in telling his story; he’s never done anything especially spectacular or memorable. To his great surprise, though, he finds himself beginning to enjoy reliving the past, recalling memories half-remembered or long forgotten, many centering on his relationship with Gerty.
As for Trudy, when first introduced she’s an unmarried women stuck in a dead-end job. As a young child, she found the machine marked 38, listened to the tape that accompanied it, and became determined to find the rest of the collection.
She also becomes determined to track down the man who spoke those words and whose name she doesn’t know. His message seems to brim with wisdom. For Trudy, it offers an avenue to contentment and an escape to a place much better than the one she’s in.
Kitson’s ability to tell a tale is such that one quickly begins to get a flesh and blood picture of the two major characters presented, as well as to a lesser degree, the minor ones. All are interesting enough to make one want to learn more about them.
Thomas appears as a sort of crotchety fellow set in his ways while doting on his wife. He acquiesces to her every request and finds himself the better for it.
There is also a clear picture of Gerty as a levelheaded and happy woman. She takes the time to make a huge picnic lunch for her husband and his marathon recording session. She seems to love nothing more than working in her garden.
Conversely, there is also stark evidence of the emptiness in Trudy’s life. She sees her friends move on without her, and her usual choice for dinner is nothing more glamorous than a baked potato.
Trudy clings to the mystery of the tapes as the key to making something wonderful happen, a dream she just might bring to fruition through sheer force of will and desire.
Kitson speaks with a sure and determined voice, modulating and emphasizing his speech when necessary. In another mark of a good storyteller, he is able to edit, elongate, and compress various time spans in his tales, always hitting the high points while making the more mundane ones seem just as important.
For example, he turns Thomas’s handling of 38 separate tape machines—from reel-to-reel to cassette—into a relatable experience when Thomas realizes he is making far more work for himself than necessary in order to record on each one.
Interestingly, Kitson never speaks to the audience directly. He is heard via the selfsame 38 machines, each one playing back a different snippet of the piece being presented.
Kitson brings forth each machine, one at a time, from the back of the playing area during the performance. The entire experience is somewhat akin to being part of a studio audience during the broadcast of a radio play.
This feeling of being in a studio audience does lead to the one weak point of the show: Kitson’s physical presence and accompanying actions distract somewhat from the tale being told. It doesn’t help that he occasionally does some bit of business, such as a gesture or movement, which further diverts the audience from the story.
Then again, this pointing away from the main story may be the point Kitson’s trying to make: There is always more to the tale than what has actually been said and that by concentrating too much on one aspect, we can miss what else is going on around us.
It also helps that Kitson doesn’t tie everything up in a nice neat package. He leaves questions throughout as he explores the story of one person at the end of his life and another continually waiting for hers to begin.
Kitson also makes great use of the venue’s cavernous playing space. The entire area is mostly in darkness with no props other than a single table, a myriad of extension cords, and the 38 different recording machines he uses to tell his story.
Analog.Ue creates some indelible characters while leaving a powerful impression about the strength and fragility of life, conviction, love, and an old reel of recording tape stretching back through the decades.
St. Ann’s Warehouse
29 Jay Street, Brooklyn
Tickets: 718-254-8779, 866-811-4111 or visit stannswarehouse.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes,
Closes: Dec. 21
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication The Stage.