Here’s part of two of my performing arts tour of New York.
After seeing Trout Fishing in America first thing on Sunday morning, I stuck around to check out Mountain Heart, a very talented bluegrass band.
I don’t like to focus on people’s physical challenges, but I couldn’t help but notice that the band’s banjo player was missing several fingers on this left hand. He was a phenomenal player and often brought his whole had over the fret to make the chord. It was interesting to watch as well as listen to.
Over the years, I think I have developed a fondness for bluegrass music, which surprises me. I always thought it was too twangy. But after five years of sponsoring a small bluegrass festival with legendary bluegrass artists like Del McCoury and Ralph Stanley and “new grass” bands like The Infamous Stringdusters and The Punch Brothers, I now have an appreciation for the music.
So I enjoyed Mountain Heart and its energy. It’s one on those bands that better live than recorded.
Now we come to what was probably my favorite show of the entire weekend: Daniel Kitson’s “It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later” at St. Ann’s Warehouse.
Last year, a colleague recommended we go see Kitson’s show “The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church” and it was enthralling, even though the theater temperature got down to probably 40 degrees and we were freezing our asses off.
Both of these are one-man shows — part story-telling, part acting. In “Gregory Church” Kitson tells the story of finding an attic full of letters. He spends months sorting them out and discovers that a man, Gregory Church, had decided to write a group of letters and then kill himself. He writes to people he barely knows — a nice teller at the bank, the little boy who waits at the bus stop in front of his house. He couldn’t finish all the letters in one day, so he mails a batch and then goes back to writing.
Several days later, he’s still writing and when he goes to mail another batch, he discovers that he has received replies. Ever polite, he decides to reply to the replies, thus delaying his suicide again.
As you can guess, Gregory’s letter writing ends up saving his life and he develops friendships through the process.
What I remember most distinctly about the show, is Kitson’s ability to weave a story and create a world. There are no props, no sets. It was just Kitson on the stage with a stool and a glass of water, but after the show I felt like I was emerging from a dream, like I had visited another world.
Needless to say, I was so enamored by “The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church” that I had very high hopes for “It’s Always Right Now, Until It’s Later.” I was not disappointed.
Once again, Kitson verbally created a world that was real and vibrant. This story focused on two people, one man and one woman, and encompasses their entire lives from birth to death (or death to birth in the gentleman’s case.)
But Kitson doesn’t focus on the big moments in their lives. He doesn’t talk about the moments of weddings, funerals, or births. Instead, he brings you a snapshot of their lives just before or just after a regular moment in life. Two minutes before a girl falls off her bike, or five minutes after an old man hangs up the phone.
The show was fancier this time. In addition to the stool and glass of water, there were dozens of light bulbs dropped down from the ceiling at various heights. As he talked about a moment, one light bulb would grow brighter than the rest. Kitson would refer to it and hold his hands around it almost like he was trying to catch a firefly. You could sense how ephemeral the moment was just from his gestures.
One of the things I like best about Kitson as a performer is his odd style of talking to the audience one minute and continuing the story the next.
It’s a bit hard to explain, but he started by welcoming everyone, asking people to turn off their phones (all done charmingly, of course) and giving a brief preamble to the story (this is not a love story, don’t expect the man and the woman to fall in love.) And before you realize it, he’s telling the story. And you thought he was just taking to the crowd.
And he’d interrupt himself. He has a stutter, and he’d make fun of himself when it came out, or if he got distracted, but somehow it adds rather than subtracts from the experience.
I probably sound like a Daniel Kitson groupie, and I guess I am a little bit. From his self-effacing style to the simple way he strings words together with beautiful alliteration and his perfect use of repetition, I am enthralled by his performances.
In fact, I listened to his stand up podcasts on the bus on the way home because I hadn’t gotten enough.
But enough about Daniel Kitson. I only have one hundred words left and two more shows.
Sunday night I attended my third globalFest and it was by far the most enjoyable. We started by seeing a French jazz/pop singer named Zaz who was fabulous. She bounced around the stage and got the crowd to sing along even though she didn’t speak English and most of us didn’t speak French.
Zaz was followed by The Silk Road Ensemble, which was beautiful if a little dull after Zaz’s exuberance, and SMOD, a Malian “root-rap hybrid.”
Then Monday night was The Klezmatics with Lunasa and Les Chauds Lapins at the Highline Ballroom. Yet another fun show with wonderful music in a great NYC venue.
I think I could go one with another thousand words about my trip, but I’ll spare you all. Suffice it to say that some days I really do love my job.