A strange, lost, nervous-looking man wanders around the living-room set of Title and Deed as we settle into our seats, amid tables holding lamps of the kind our mothers used to decorate with. A couple of standing lamps with old shades illuminate the back of the space.
To preserve the premise of the play, suffice it to say that Title and Deed is a 65-minute monologue performed outstandingly by Christopher Stanton. He being the lost, nervous-looking man already on set.
It helped that this nameless character’s repetitive gestures and mock diffidence reminded me of a dear, departed friend, because one of the big themes of Title and Deed is death, and the consequent remembering of whom we’ve lost and what they gave us. Especially our parents.
As a playwright Will Eno has tremendous range and in this piece has grasped the art of the fiction writer, getting inside the character’s head and giving an actor the difficult task of alternately addressing the audience, declaiming for no one in particular and, when all else fails, talking to himself.
Title and Deed had a brief run in November 2015 at Artscape Youngplace. Arnott and Stanton have undoubtedly refined the play, but the tagline still applies: “life as a state of permanent exile.” So you might imagine our monologist as a brother from another planet or a visitor from the past or simply someone who’s landed in the city after growing up in Britain, or some other English-speaking culture.
Our exile refers often to customs, both the entry process at the airport, and the traditions he recalls from his homeland. “ ‘Eyes are the window of the eyes,’ we used to say.”
The journey has put him in a puckish mood. It might be the excitement, or the process of being brought in to a new country (a funny bit of business with lightbulbs on a lampstand, cords pulled to imitate the photographing of one’s retina) or simply new bacteria. He begins to meditate on home, “where the hat’s hanging and the placenta is buried.” He muses on words, and their inadequacy. “Words take a toll.” But, “they do the job.”
He’s a lover of words, including women, both the word and the objects. Two females make their appearance in his meandering talk: Lauren (“her teeth shone in the moonlight”) and the blonde he calls Lisa (“. . .from this vicinity. It sounds so sexual.”)
This man doesn’t want to sound like a complainer. “I assure you, I am a celebrant,” he comments, dramatic soliloquy quickly morphing to direct address, when he asks an audience member if she can hear his jaws clicking. “I grind my teeth at night and maybe I’m doing it now.”
Fascinatingly, Mr. X recalls his own birth: “ ‘It’s a boy’ can sound more like a diagnosis than a piece of news.” But he admits he has no recollection of the conception.
Title and Deed is not all fun and games, sarcasm and uric acid. There are moments of sadness and genuine philosophical insight. Go see it and find out.
Title and Deed
Written by Will Eno
Directed by Stewart Arnott
Performed by Christopher Stanton
Presented by Nightfall Theatrics
At Tarragon Workspace, Toronto until October 8