Review: Title and Deed (Nightfall Theatrics)

Photo of Christopher StantonTitle of Deed questions the meaning of home, on stage now in Toronto

To say someone is ‘here’ begs the question: what, precisely, is that place? Nightfall Theatric’s Title and Deed, playing at the Tarragon Theatre Workspace, follows the story of one man trying to dig into the nature of leaving home and arriving in a new place. Unfortunately, this production begs the question a bit too pointedly of its audience, as its answers are often safe and mostly underwhelming.

Title and Deed as a show is, at its best, uneven. Will Eno’s play is one of those works that some people might find brilliant, others might find pretentious, and that I personally found a little one-note. For me, in a one-man show like this, I needed the production to really go to town on the text, challenging me to accept the play’s conceit as spiritually relevant. In other words, I felt like nothing ever moved beyond the mere words on the page.

An expatriate (Christopher Stanton) pontificates on his journey from his place of birth to ‘here’—wherever that may be, and whatever that may mean. Eno’s play hits all the standard male existential crises notes: the mother is dead, a man is just a stranger, and everything’s a eulogy if you’re smart enough to see it.

My guest summarized the premise neatly as too ‘woe is me.’ I somewhat disagree. There are a lot of problems with the story, but I suspect the production’s lack of risk is the main reason it failed to engage us.

The set was small: a few rugs and side tables with lamps providing the lighting. Audience seats were set up in such a way that Stanton had a small alleyway to act in, and routes to walk around behind the audience.

While the idea was nice, Stanton ended up positioned primarily at the far end of the stage. He often left the light to act in darkness, and ultimately felt very far away for a man performing in such a small space. In this case, Stanton’s pacing of the venue felt less like using the space and more like a man who wasn’t always sure where the best place to be actually was.

And I liked Stanton. Giving his character a somewhat sardonic charm, I found myself a lot more forgiving of the play’s faults as it dragged on. One particular moment saw him trying to explain homesickness using the walls as an impromptu chalkboard. Initially he’s energized in his frustration at feeling homesick, but he slowly trails off and slumps, just a little, as he finds the right words and understands why it’s hopeless.

What a beautiful moment–a cool visual that made Stanton stand still and just act. Sadly, it’s forgotten as quickly as it’s used, and the chalkboard isn’t used again. Stanton returns to pacing and moving while his character becomes repetitive, never quite finding a strong personal journey like the one he’s supposedly telling the audience.

Title and Deed feels unfinished and rushed, especially for a show that runs just over an hour and often dragged. I did find myself waiting for the curtain call. There was just nowhere to go in the show. There were moments of genuine emotion, but everything was so middle-of-the-road that even Stanton’s charm couldn’t overcome the play’s faults.

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Photo of Christopher Stanton by Bonnie Anderson

 

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