Chester Theatre Company Absorbs Your Attention with Engaging “Title and Deed”
CHESTER, MASSACHUSETTS — It’s a quintessential theatrical set-up. A wanderer enters stage left and surveys his surroundings and who he’s talking to. He’s got a tale to tell of who he is, where he comes from and what life is like where he’s from. Simple, right? It is not quite so straightforward and nothing like what we may have expected. To those who have never encountered a Will Eno play before, especially his solo shows, “Title and Deed” can be a bit of a challenge at first because narrative is not its strong suit.
James Barry is our guide and supplicant for the afternoon and he is a thoroughly engaging stranger to take us on this journey. Although, he is, of course, no stranger to Chester audiences, this being his sixth production with them. Unlike his more taciturn roles in the exceptional “The Aliens” and “The Night Alive,” this role finds him alone onstage throughout the play’s hour running time. Unlike his character’s relationship to the world, he is completely at home onstage, making eye contact with the audience, addressing the tent pole center-stage even as he tells us of his disorientation and we perceive his need to connect with us. In his Henley, untucked plaid shirt, striped trousers and gasoline jacket (designed by Charles Schoonmaker), he could be a natty Tom Joad or an itinerant drifter as he describes himself later, “un-homed.” His smile is open and broad and we can see thoughts pass through him…and what thoughts they are!
Eno has an exquisite craftsman’s touch to his skewed aphorisms and turns of phrase. “Life was essentially a parade, which would only stop to let an ambulance pass by.” The Man tells us of his upbringing, different customs where he came from, his conception of home. It all either pleases our ear, tickles our funny-bone or chills us with the connections between our journeys on earth and our existential trip through life.
The passing of his parents and his memories of their admonitions to him, “Who exactly do you think you are?” and “Where do you think you’re going?” are especially touching and like much else in the monologue work their way into your head with their comforting familiarity and they only turn cold when we consider the broader import of the question. Eno is a Pulitzer finalist who has taken the American vernacular and given it his own Beckett spin.
Director Keira Naughton has mined the script for all its worth and guided Barry to this wonderful, open, engaging presence. Coming out of the pandemic, there are specific lines that strike a chord as when Man remarks on life being nothing more than “a room, a window, a walk to the mailbox” and CTC could not have chosen better than this play from 2012 in looking for a piece to comfort in the deepest sense of the word after such a harrowing year. It may leave some audiences puzzled but it couldn’t be clearer about our need to be together and see ourselves and each other in our many guises which is directly addressed and affirmed.
To those unfamiliar with Chester Theatre Company, “Title and Deed” is an excellent introduction to the company. In its summer home at the Hancock Shaker Village, under a tent on a summer day, there were subtle lighting effects designed by Lara Dubin. James McNamara is credited with the sound design but a couple of the most prominent effects, two instances of cows mooing, I suspect are working freelance.
“Title and Deed is running through June 27. For tickets, visit http://www.chestertheatre.org.