An artist with a large cult following, Kitson is famously uninterested in accommodating the media: No onstage photos were supplied to accompany this review, for instance. But when the rumpled, balding, bespectacled, jeans-clad performer stalked onto the stage one evening last week, he made an immediate, slightly prickly connection with his audience. For the next 120 minutes, he declared, he was going to read aloud the contents of the card catalogue, which itemized every object in his home.
Pulling out a catalogue drawer and seating himself at a desk, he started leafing through index cards and reciting items: a plant pot, a small pink watering can, a red bucket, a brick. But almost immediately, he purported to discover cards that had been tampered with, prompting him to fulminate, and digress, and comment on his digressions.
Pacing around the catalogue, yanking out drawers, yanking out cards, snapping his fingers nervously and talking at a manic pace with an occasional stutter, he searched for further evidence of sabotage. The self-deprecatory and self-justifying soliloquy that accompanied this hunt included fragments of wisdom (“I’m lonely because I’m alive”), descriptions of random possessions (76 empty jam jars), unexplained or barely explained British references (the fish-and-chips chain Harry Ramsden’s) and stray anecdotes (the time Kitson discovered a digital camera on a shop window ledge and failed in his plan to sleuth out the rightful owner because he didn’t have the correct power cord).
Now bristling, now deadpan, now exultant, Kitson is alive to the moment. At one point, he gave a theatergoer a hard time for taking off her jacket. At another, he grilled the audience about a siren audible through the theater walls — what kind of siren was it? — and made a wisecrack about city crime. A second siren got a pass: “I’ve been funny about that once already!” the comedian muttered.
“Keep.” abounds in philosophical depths, hilariously dry phrasing (Kitson calls his home a “museum of me . . . for me”) and withering takedowns of received notions (he objects to the idea that one should forgive oneself for past mistakes). Also delightful is the show’s ostensibly unruly form, with a declared encyclopedic agenda spidering off into asides and Sisyphean flailings, rounded out with a clever ending that evokes an agony column fused with a Jorge Luis Borges story.
Some theatergoers may dislike the straggly format, or object to what is admittedly a mode of self-indulgence: “Keep.” consistently revels in Kitson’s performance of eccentricity. And even those who find “Keep.” a keeper will not wish the show to be any longer than it is. I dared to check my watch once, but only because I was sitting (at the theater staff’s direction) quite far from the stage. If I’d been closer, or less surreptitious, Kitson would surely have called me out.
Keep. Written and performed by Daniel Kitson. Two hours. Tickets: $25. Through Dec. 1 at Studio Theatre’s Mead Theatre, 1501 14th St NW. 202-332-3300 or studiotheatre.org.