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Off-Broadway Review

NY Review: 'Title and Deed'

NY Review: 'Title and Deed'
Photo Source: Joan Marcus
The concerns of a playwright are necessarily lapidary, but nowhere in the American theater is there a more devoted miniaturist than Will Eno. His newest play to receive a New York production, “Title and Deed,” has the feeling of a George Saunders short story or a particularly friendly Pinter monologue; it apes the form, sort of, of a standard-issue one-person show, superficially concerned with the minutiae of life in a distant, unnamed country and how different things are there...wherever “there” is. The actor given the task of playing this nonspecific immigrant is the Irish Conor Lovett (under the direction of Judy Hegarty Lovett), whose light lilt allows his character’s jarringly weird homespun anecdotes (“It’s like when they have you gargle with the sand for your second birthday”) to slip by nearly unnoticed before their inherent absurdity makes you laugh.

It’s a play, obviously, that rewards close attention, and the closer you focus, the more carefully crafted detail you’re able to discern. “Don’t hate me, if you wouldn’t mind,” requests our guy (he’s just “man” in the script). “Thanks.” And suddenly everything that needs to be said about xenophobia has been taken care of, so Eno moves on to homesickness. Too often, one-person shows seem to exist to demonstrate to the audience how special the performer is; here, Eno uses the notion of a guy a long way from home to talk about transience and the problems of being from one place but living in another. “I imagine myself striking out into the world, one foot in the grave, the other in my mouth,” says Lovett, “and how’s anyone supposed to walk like that?”

And yes, this show is pretty funny. Eno has become an accomplished joke writer over the course of his career and he uses that gift to keep our attention—not an easy task, given that this show is 70 minutes of one guy talking haltingly about the universality of the experience of “wishing I were home.” So Eno follows that with, “Home where I’m from, that is, home where the hat’s hanging and the placenta’s buried.”

It helps that Lovett underplays every gag. The careful, wide-eyed delivery of lines like those above (I could go on, but others are too funny to spoil) gives the potentially grave subject matter a vital levity, and while the show packs a lot of ruminations on death and loneliness into just over an hour’s worth of running time, it never quite wears out its welcome.

By anyone else’s standards, it’s a mighty achievement; by comparison to the rest of Eno’s work (especially the gorgeous “Middletown”), it feels a little understuffed. Perhaps it’s ungenerous to wish as maligned a form as the short play on any writer, but Eno’s one-acts have so much heft that one wonders if he could have crammed this into half an hour. In any case, "Title and Deed" is worth seeing, as much for Lovett’s tempered, careful performance as for Eno’s lovely writing.

Presented by Signature Theatre Company in association with Gare St. Lazare Players Ireland at Signature Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St., NYC. May 20-June 17. Schedule varies. 212-244-7529 or www.signaturetheatre.org. Casting by Telsey + Company.

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