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Chester Theatre Company's “Title And Deed” Is Dark And Provocative

James Barry, in a publicity still from "Title and Deed"
Elizabeth Solaka
James Barry in "Title and Deed"

Will Eno is a playwright about whom you cannot be neutral. You either love his work or are confounded by it.

Chester Theatre Company is offering his one-man show, “Title and Deed,” at  Hancock Shaker Village through Sunday and it certainly fits the love-hate relationship audiences have with his material.  It’s impossible not to attend the show and not be intellectually engaged by the thoughts, and eloquence of the writing.  However, the material is so dense, the telling so random and the digressions so frequent, it is not a play for all tastes.

Eno kind of acknowledges this attitude when at the beginning of the play, the solo performer pleads with the audience not to walk out on him.  More telling, he adds, “If you do please keep the screaming to yourself.”

Indeed, “Title and Deed “is about a lot of internal screaming.   The lone figure introduces himself to the audience, telling us he not from here.  And, again, Eno delivers his point having the man look out into the audience and comment “but probably neither is anyone else”.    His point, which he confirms later in the play, is no one ever feels completely at home.  He makes clear he’s not referring to being homeless.  Rather he calls it being “un-homed.”  Sociologists use the term “displacement.”

When speaking about his childhood, he remembers his parents always asking him two questions.  Who do you think you are?   And, where do you think you’ve going?   After 70-minutes of rambling introspection it becomes clear he still isn’t able to answer those questions.   By implication, you have to wonder if any of us in the audience, who are not from here either, can offer an answer?

Sitting through “Title and Deed” is like being trapped next to someone on a plane who is intent on telling you their life story.   It’s not the relaxing trip for which you hoped.  You understand the man’s feeling towards his own life experiences, but you deny to yourself that they are your experiences as well.  The mysterious stranger is too smart to be boring, yet too dour to be charming.  You listen and wait for the journey to be over.

But after a while your denial is less firm, and moments of self-reflection begin to take place. Oddly, for some reason you are eager to share your experience with others, without wishing it upon them.   Seeds of thought have been planted in your head about life, identity and connections.  No answers or solutions are offered, but the idea that somehow this strange man is a lot like you – is more uncanny than it is disturbing.

The man from an undisclosed place is played by James Barry, a Berkshire area professional actor, with national credits.   He is comfortably uncomfortable in the body of this man without an identity.  It’s a performance that wins you over by its sheer honesty.   You might not know, or even be comfortable with the odd stranger, but Barry inhabits him so fully his life becomes startling universal.

Barry and director Keira Naughton approach the stranger as a man who is does not live in a world of reality – at least not our reality, or maybe not our world.  However, he accepts his state of uncertainty and is not disturbed at a life that appears completely lacking in joy.   It explains why Eno’s writing if often called Samuel Beckett-like in spirit.

The actor/director choice it a portrait – a sketch, actually – of an extremely passive man.  In combination with the dark density of the material this approach can encourage the mind to wander. The plus side is - sometimes it wanders to enlightening places.

For Chester Theatre Company, this is the first  production of a three-play summer season offered outside under a tent on the grounds of Hancock Shaker Village in Mass.   It a beautiful bucolic setting that I encourage you to visit.   But for “Title and Deed,” go knowing what to expect.  That is a well-performed play that is provocative and demanding -  but not for everyone’s taste.

It’s not typical summer fare and congratulations to Chester Theater Company for having the courage to challenge its audience.

“Title and Deed” plays Thursday to Sunday. For tickets and scheduling information go to chestertheatre.org or call 413-7771

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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