Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Best New Play in New York, Starring 23 Tape Machines

Posted By on Tue, Dec 10, 2013 at 12:20 PM

The stars of Daniel Kitson's beautiful and conceptually brilliant show are 23 tape machines, ranging from ragged reel-to-reels to clumsy cassette decks. They start the show stacked on a shelf at the back of St. Ann's cavernous performance space; aided by occasional flashlight use, Kitson carries each to the front, plugs them into a spotlighted, centerstage mixing board, and flicks them on—or sometimes switches back to one he already set up—the fragments of prerecorded audio typically interweaving two typically Kitson-esque stories: that of 80-year-old Thomas Taplow, setting out to record his life story one afternoon in 1977 at the orders of his wife, who worries he may not have much time left; and that of Trudy, starting nearer the present, slogging through her sad life, obsessed with a tape fragment on which a man lays out a weird bit of his life story.

In gorgeous language—"the myriad machines he has yet to manhandle"—Taplow's story crawls forward, full of tidbits about the process of recording than biographical anecdotes, suggesting this is what our lives are really made of: mellow afternoons, the eyes rather than the storms. Meanwhile, Trudy's trudges backward, zipping through years, hitting jobs, family, loneliness, and her relationship with a peculiar bit of magnetic tape. As such, Kitson keeps his show rooted in the past and present, knowing that life's glories lie here and not in the unknowable future. The climactic Benjamin Buttoning is in fact anticlimactic, but the ways the stories move and collide isn't quite the point. The tapes become the perfect metaphor for our lives as a collection of memories, our memories as scattered fragments, some bound to touch the future, but most of them lost, erased, reused, repurposed, misunderstood. Form is content in Kitson's show—one of the most moving and very best of the year.

Tickets are only $25. Through December 21.

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart

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