Wearing clothes that look as if he might have had them on when he got out of bed and speaking with a barely detectable stutter, Kitson has the audience in thrall within seconds of starting his tale, as he says in a cautionary tone that "the vast majority of what you're about to hear is made up." And while the disclaimer would seem to give listeners -- who sit on all four sides of the performance space -- license to dismiss what follows, his rough-edged charm defuses any urge to resist whatever he chooses to say no matter how far-fetched.
Kitson recalls that in 2007 he was thinking of leaving his adopted London base for a more rural life. While checking out a cottage in a far less citified locale, he noticed an opening in a ceiling he took to be the entryway to an attic. Assured by the estate agent that the abode had no attic, he insisted he wanted to explore all the same, impulsively climbed atop a chair, and peeked into what was unmistakably an attic. What he discovered there was a series of boxes filled with letters. More intriguingly, he spotted a typewriter in which was lodged a suicide note. It cited hanging as the favored method and was signed Gregory Church.
Though Kitson decided he had no interest in the cottage, he realized he wanted the letters and contrived to acquire all 30,659 of them. Over the next two years, Kitson reports (if "reports" is the correct word for what he's earlier suggested is fiction) that he arranged the letters chronologically and separated them into letters Church wrote -- and for which he made carbon copies -- and letters Church received.
The first batch composed and dispatched in 1983 announced the man's intention to take his life immediately after he finished writing them that day, but the writing took longer than expected. Action was postponed. Shortly, though, the suicide is regularly skipped so Church can respond to the return letters he now receives in such great volume. Over time, he forms friendships with his correspondents, the redeeming quality of which Kitson goes into at length.
Kitson's story transforms from a portrait of a hopeless existence into a celebration of the human connections that inexorably enrich life. And before Kitson concludes Gregory Church's story -- which he's adorned with innumerable sparkling and surprising details -- he contrives a twist that renders his enthusiastic endorsement of remaining alive even more life-affirming.
When Kitson jaunts off-stage, he leaves a question charging the air: Has life just been proved stranger than fiction, or has fiction just been deployed to promote the wonder of life? The implied answer: Either way is terrific.
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