April 20, 2015 - “I'm not from here. I guess I never will be. That's how being from somewhere works.” And so begins Will Eno's lovely and strange Title and Deed. With just one performer and a non-linear story—well, really very little story at all—Title and Deed is a far cry from the acrobatic productions that bookend this enigmatic show at Lookingglass Theatre. There are no circus-inspired high wire acts, no flying through the air, and no creatures from faraway lands.
Instead there's one character from...somewhere. He's from another country, but we never find out where. He's known simply as “Traveler,” and he tells us he's here for neither business nor pleasure. Though his story doesn't seem to have a discernable beginning or end, Travler's words resonate with us. He talks about home. He talks about death. He talks about birth and family and disappointment, about love and loss and what it means to exist in his world and in ours. A world that's strange and awful and wonderful. People who come in and out of our lives to teach us...what? Something...
In actor Michael Patrick Thornton's hands, Traveler is foreign, familiar and incredible compelling. He's a storyteller who we're pretty sure we can trust. Or then again, can we? Traveler rephrases, adjusts and edits as he leads us through his thoughts and memories. His story is fluid and ever-changing, but then that's kind of his point. We're all traveling, aren't we? We're all on the way to someplace else, and our memories evolve as we travel through life. We make them match who we are now, and we'll edit as we move along.
Title and Deed is an odd little piece of theater. It's not exactly a drama. It's not really a comedy or a fantasy or a mystery. It's all of those things and none of them. It's incredibly intimate. Thornton draws the audience in and doesn't let go until the Traveler has shared all he cares to share. And though Title and Deed is a quiet, still, understated production, its linguistic and stylistic acrobatics coupled with Thornton's thoughtful performance are, indeed, breathtaking.
While the acting is what makes Title and Deed well worth the trip to Lookingglass Theatre and the Water Tower Water Works Building, the rest of the collaborative team serves to round out a truly memorable experience. Director Marti Lyons has done a lovely job overseeing each detail and allowing the focus to remain squarely on the acting. Daniel Ostling's deceptively simple scenic and lighting designs help to create a cozy, welcoming environment for Traveler to share his thoughts. Unadorned, ramped platforms are the only scenery the script needs. Though the script often wanders in and out of uncomfortable topics, the warm light emanating from wall sconces surrounding the playing area offer the kind of comfort usually reserved for late night talks with intimate friends.
Title and Deed is, in a way, like one of those late night talks. It makes us think big thoughts and small ones, too. It makes us consider the world our place in it. And though Title and Deed is not a great, big theatrical spectacle, its place as one of the most memorable productions this season is certain. Don't miss it!
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Michael Patrick Thornton stars in Lookingglass Theatre's spring production of Title and Deed (photo courtesy of Lookingglass Theatre).