The English, damn their eyes, think in English. Could one of us poor, stammering Americans hope to shape anything remotely like The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church, the latest “story show” from hyperarticulate comedy folk hero Daniel Kitson — a man who works scriptless and delivers (over a slight stutter) hearty wit and witty heart with such tranquil fluency, it’s passed through you practically before you know it? Like, doubtful, bra. (“I refuse to pander to your linguistic frailty,” Kitson cracks at the top of the evening — but really, it’s no joke.)
On the other hand, would a tongue-tied Yank get away with the near-tweeness of this material without a thorough spanking? Not likely. Yet Kitson, a Perrier winner whose performance style is all deceptive whirlwind diffidence and breathtaking phraseology, manages to ski effortlessly on slopes of English cheese without tripping any alarms — but (at least in my case) without exciting any grand emotions, either.
The show is, functionally, an epistolary novel, composed of over 3,000 letters Kitson claims to have discovered in a Yorkshire attic that once belonged to the title character, an adorably “ordinary” lonelyheart seemingly sprung from the blasted loins of J. Alfred Prufrock and Eleanor Rigby. Gregory planned a responsible suicide way back in the eighties, sent all the proper letters closing out his affairs … then spent the next twenty years dealing with the replies he received, putting off the Main Event again and again as he became emotionally involved with the strangers he’d written. (“Due to my procrastination and the erratic hours of the post office,” he writes, “I shall live for another day.”) Is Gregory measuring out his death in coffee spoons? Or is he really starting to live? Kitson — whose relaxed-fit, scruffy-bunny exterior conceals a mind sleek and quick as a sea otter — can turn a phrase with the best of them (“I have a pathological fondness for glimpsed lives”), but what is this, really, but “life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans?” And Kitson, crucially, is telling, not performing, this tale. By the end, I detected the pleasant, warm-woolen consolation of being read to sleep. That’s an awfully nice sensation, to be sure, but not necessarily the one I’m looking for in the theater.
The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church is running through January 30 at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water Street in Dumbo.