Title and Deed

By Will Enolookingglass theatre

Directed by Marti Lyons

Produced by Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago

Man Meditates on Grief and Limitations

Title and Deed is a one-man show in which the character’s monologue only vaguely recounts a story. Instead, the Traveler, as he is called, treats us to a dissection of his losses, regrets, and sense of alienation while ruminating on their causes. Not that actor Michael Patrick Thornton allows him to remains static, he is actually quite fascinating and directly engages with the audience at several points. His delivery, which was mostly droll and deadpan with just a few revelations of true sorrow, reminded me of Ira Glass’s This American Life on NPR. How much you like that is a good predictor of how much you’ll like this show.

Michael-Patrick-Thornton-4

The Traveler begins his night with us by complaining about the difficulties of flying internationally. He’s from a country he compares to a dying old woman, where they maintain sweet traditions like serenading your lover on an instrument you don’t know how to play. Or maybe he just imagined that and isn’t really from somewhere special. The point is, he had a life before, but now he doesn’t feel at home anywhere. He assures us he’s not really dour. He praises his mother and father even though they were distant or undercut him, which is a natural segue to discussing his homeland’s funeral customs. His mother’s death hit him especially hard, and was apparently the event that precipitated his wandering. One girlfriend asked him what he was doing on Earth. It certainly wasn’t anything as noble as delivering kittens to the deaf, like she did.

Michael-Patrick-Thornton-7

As often as the Traveler is eloquent and witty, he complains about the limitations of language to describe his experience. The endless rumbling in his head, the toolbox he carries around, the significance of monosyllabic objects like “tree” and “lamp” are all beyond his ability to adequately express. Thornton is by no means limited to verbal communication, however. He has brilliant comic timing and an easy rapport with the audience when the Traveler is in a good mood. When he becomes upset, Thornton’s eyes are distant and watery, and his face twists in the pain of his sorrow. He embodies his character so fully that even though Eno wrote the play in 2012 for his New York company, Thornton’s use of a wheelchair seems like it could be from an episode in the Traveler’s life he simply didn’t discuss this evening. It is a contemplative take on the character, who seems to be sharing with us, instead of recounting for our scrutiny.

Marti Lyons’s directing helps Thornton remain on-point instead of rambling. The tantalizing possibility that the Traveler’s monologue is going somewhere keeps us engaged for a little over an hour. But Mara Blumenfeld’s vaguely Bekettian costume design warns us not to stake our hopes on closure. Thornton is a wonder to watch and listen to, and the final sequence in which the Traveler directly comments on what is bothering him, combined with staging that makes Daniel Ostling’s lights seem to close off his world, is deeply affecting. Whether that’s enough to justify the previous hour depends on your patience. I found Eno’s jokes amusing, and considered the Traveler’s one-sided banter to be as much a part of baring his soul as recounting the big moments in his life. But I can see how another person could get irritated with his moping. Despite whatever one thinks of the script, however, Title and Deed is a chance to see a master actor at his art.

Recommended

Jacob Davis
3jacob.davis@gmail.com

Reviewed March 28, 2015

For more information, see Title and Deed’s page on Theatre in Chicago.

Playing at Lookingglass Theatre Company, 821 N Michigan Ave, Chicago. Tickets are $40-60 with discounts for students and groups; to purchase call 312-337-0655 or visit www.lookingglasstheatre.org. Plays Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 3:00 pm (except April 2 and 16) and 7:30 pm, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sundays at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm (except April 12 and 26) through May 3. Running time is sixty-five minutes.