David S. Kessler has a condition known as ordinal linguistic personification. But he does not suffer from it; he could be said to enjoy it (for the most part). The condition is a form of synesthesia, and while other synesthetes might see colors in letters or be able to taste music, those with numesthesia — as Kessler has branded this particular strain — see numbers as people, individuals with discrete personalities who interact with one another.
…raises questions about differences in perception with humor and candor.
In his childhood, Kessler’s numesthesia was seen by parents and teachers as a sign of an imaginative and somewhat off-the-wall mind. He “saw the world sideways,” as his mother put it. But as he got older, Kessler came to realize that not everyone saw the digits 1 through 9, and the number 10, as people. Just as we assume everyone means the same thing by “red” as we do, or the same thing by “salty” — even though we cannot really know — it was a shock to Kessler when he learned that not everyone was able to observe the numbers.
And observe he does. While Kessler can see young, playful 3 tagging along behind outdoorsy 6, or trickster 5 playing a prank on bookish 7, he cannot alter them or interact with them. As Kessler tells the story of his numesthesia, and of this exclusive community of numbers, he makes it clear that he can only watch. It’s not his imagination, and it’s not his story.
“Numesthesia” the Capital Fringe Festival show is an 80-minute monologue accompanied by rich percussion performed live on stage behind Kessler, with occasional lighting color changes and silent video projections. This combination of forms brings to mind Spalding Gray’s famed monologue works. But in contrast to Gray’s sometimes frenetic outbursts, Kessler maintains a conversational tone throughout. He comes off like an amiable professor.
This works to his advantage, particularly when he turns his focus to the darker side of his number community. When he says early on in the show that he can hardly bear to contemplate the number 56 because of the factors from his family needed to create it, it gets a laugh. But later on, once he explains that, just as in our non-numesthete world, some of the numbers are not so kind, and can prey on their peers, the product of 8 x 7 takes on a sinister meaning.
“Numesthesia,” directed by Ryan S. Taylor and produced by Uncle Funsy Productions, is a fascinating, fast-moving look into one man’s way of seeing the world, that raises questions about differences in perception with humor and candor.
(One final note: At one point during the show, an audience member’s phone rang. Kessler politely asked for it to be turned off. The ringing continued, so he asked again, a bit less politely. Then later, at the climax of his monologue, a different phone rang, and he stopped the show with considerable calm until it was silenced. Afterward, I overheard him asking a friend, “Was I too mean?” No, sir, not at all.)
Running Time: 80 minutes.
Advisory: Recommended for ages 13 and up.
“Numesthesia” at the Atlas Performing Arts Center Lab II, 1333 H St NE in Washington, will run through July 22. For tickets and more information, click here.