TITLE AND DEED - CHESTER@HANCOCK
Chester Theater Company's production of “Title and Deed’, staged under a tent at field’s edge in Hancock Shaker Village, is a master class of playwriting for Will Eno, acting for James Barry and direction for Kiera Naughton. Eno’s single character, Man, enters, appearing almost like a homeless person (which he is), carrying a beat-up travel bag, having cleared entry into an unknown country. Business or pleasure? “Neither” he says.
If this sounds like the 70 minute play is set in no-man’s land, with a nod to Harold Pinter, you’re close, but Eno puts Man squarely on Becket’s turf. And if irony abounds in the world inhabited by Man and precisely shaped by director Naughton on stage, look no further than the title. Does “Title” refer to a deed as in a document (or a just a name)? Does “Deed” refer to a legal title (or an act with meaning). They can be synonymous or have nothing to do with each other, which alludes to all the contradictions inherent to and replete in Man’s hypnotic, fascinating monolog.
Man attempts dialogue with the audience, but quickly concludes. “Sorry, but I don’t sense much joy around here, with all of you.” His elliptical discourse, which adopts lyrical symmetry in Barry’s stellar performance, is peppered with eccentric and often bizarre anecdotes of the everyday, but is weighted with personal stories of father, mother, girlfriend Laura, another called Lisa. Still, Man returns again and again to words. He can’t find meaning in life, can he find meaning in words? “Words take a toll” he observes.
Barry is perfectly cast as Man. (Disclosure: I’ve directed Barry in a reading before.) His wide-open boyish-face (under beard for this role) suggests vulnerability, but also a keen, intelligence. Barry’s Man isn’t simply world-weary, he’s an intellectual peripatetic, perhaps someplace on the spectrum. Barry infuses the role with hidden, creeping tension, which finds its pathetic expression with one of two belongings he carries in his travel bag. Barry’s is among the best solo performances I’ve seen in decades of theatre-going.
Naughton’s direction is so good it’s invisible, evidenced by Barry’s impeccably-timed, naturalistic performance. The nearly bare set is a framed doorway and what appears to be dislocated doors or wall panels scattered to the side, suggesting portals to.. where? nowhere?
Sound design acknowledges extraneous natural noise: cows mooing from the field adjacent to the tent, distant motorcycles revving down the road. Was is really raining on the roof of the tent? It didn’t matter. Barry’s command of Eno’s material and Naughton’s sensitivity to it is so precise, I was inside the world inside Man’s head.
Man’s lonely journey is endless, his search for meaning elusive. Observes Man, as conclusively as he can: “All of us marching out of the ocean, breathing and breathing and breathing and then dropping dead on land, on some land we like to mistakenly think of as ours. Thank God, I guess, that we invented words to huff and puff, to give the whole thing some shape.” And Man moves on.