We gave it a B-
”Where are you from?” That could be the unasked question that prompts playwright Will Eno’s 70-minute, one-man show Title and Deed (now playing through June 17 at Off Broadway’s Signature Theatre). Despite the long response, we never get a straight answer — because where’s the fun in that? The unnamed man (Conor Lovett) at the center of the production paints a hazy picture of his Irish hometown, describing lazy, bucolic scenes of youth and many odd but not-quite-exotic traditions (”you had to make bread for anyone who asked”). The important thing is: He’s not from around ”here,” wherever that may be.
He’s left his home, but he hasn’t exactly arrived anywhere else. He tells a rambling, directionless story about displacement and alienation. Since striking out on his own, he’s made meaningful connections with others, only to erode those relationships with restlessness and distance. Thus, he acknowledges and is seemingly grateful for a captive audience, although Lovett doesn’t go out of his way to encourage audience participation (thank goodness). The man just wants his musings to be heard by another living soul.
Even for a one-man show, Title and Deed has few distractions and deliberately makes little use of the luxe, handsomely appointed Signature Theatre. Aside from the fade in and out, the stage is blasted with full-on, matter-of-fact light from start to finish, and the man handles only three props: a knapsack, a lunch pail, and a broom handle — the first two are hardly essential; the last is used in the only startling moment of the play.
So the entire production rests on Lovett’s slouched shoulders. Eno’s script doesn’t require him to razzle-dazzle the audience, but rather command it quietly (a typical line: ”I have a sad way of talking, but that’s just the sound of my voice”). And Lovett manages to accomplish that task: Hesitancy belies the man’s every gesture, and beneath his self-effacing geniality is a sort of repressed, repellent indignation that life hasn’t offered him more. We understand why the world hasn’t embraced him.
While Eno delivers some droll and insightful moments, it’s an exercise in concentration not to tune out for minutes at a time. At my matinee showing, an alarming number of the grayer heads were bobbing in slumber, but even if you lose consciousness, it’s hard to miss the gist of what the man is trying to say. Even with all of his evasions, he doesn’t have much to offer beyond a gist of an idea. B-
(Tickets: SignatureTheatre.org or 212-244-7529)