When it opened Off Broadway in 2005, Will Eno’s monologue Thom Pain (based on nothing) attracted many excited, admiring notices (mine included). The reviewer from The New York Times was especially taken with Eno’s flair for existential epigrams and elliptical fragments—all serving a bleakly droll vision of life’s lonely march toward meaningless oblivion. In a line written more with flushed glibness than an ability to put Eno’s work in theatrical context, the critic panted that “Mr. Eno might be called a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.” He just might, at that! The Beckettian association has shadowed Eno ever since. (To be honest, there are worse places to get shade.) Title and Deed is a sort of homecoming: Like Thom Pain, it presents us with a fellow awkwardly and evasively dredging up his past while marveling at us—the sneezing, coughing clump in the dark. In the intervening seven years, the voice has grown less bitter and defensive, more humble and wistful.
The 70-minute piece was written for the Irish company Gare St Lazare Players, a group that specializes in solo Beckett shows. Conor Lovett, a recessive, unclosed parenthesis of a man, strolls up with a little satchel and announces that he’s not from these parts; he’s “unhomed,” a foreigner still getting the hang of his new location. He gently guides us through a crumbling scrapbook of evaporating memories, slight sardonic observations about our customs and grim details about his parents’ deaths. Eno’s breathtaking prose—light and deferential on the surface but dense with emotional and cognitive trauma underneath—requires close, patient listening. The reward is no less than with good Beckett: a mind-cleansing glimpse at life’s plenitude and strangeness.
It can be useless to fuss over cryptic names of shows. But since identity figures heavily in the work, it nags me: Why Title and Deed? Is it a self-mocking, self-canceling pun: Title Indeed? Or an allusion to property holdings, which the dispossessed speaker doesn’t own? Or is there an actual title deed in that blue box he reveals at the end? I’m asking, but as with Beckett, I don’t really want an answer.—David Cote
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