Will Eno’s “Title and Deed” (now in a new production from Capital T Theatre, playing through Sept. 16 at Hyde Park Theatre) is a difficult play to describe, and that’s sort of the point.
Featuring only one actor, described simply as “Man,” the short play is a mixture of monologue, memoir and, to a degree, stand-up comedy. The man is a visitor from a strange, faraway land talking directly to the audience in an amorphous space that is both an international airport and the theater itself (the program describes it as “The theatre, a room”). Over the course of the man’s rambling revelations of his own thoughts, observations and personal history, we learn of his dual obsessions with loss and with language, which are inextricably linked in his mind.
The man’s full history — his name, where he comes from, why he’s visiting “here” — is never quite revealed, which is in large part Eno’s ultimate goal, as he explores what it means to be lonely, lost and unable to find the right words to express oneself. Many of our customs are as strange to the man as his are to us, and whenever he begins to feel a real connection, yet another cultural, linguistic or personal difference gets in the way.
Capital T’s production of the play, directed by Mark Pickell and starring Jason Phelps, is a stylistically simple deep dive into the nuances, linguistic play and intentional misunderstandings of Eno’s text. Pickell lets Phelps do all the heavy lifting here, with a very bare set (designed by Pickell) consisting of the theater’s black walls and a stage of wooden planks, and a lighting design by Patrick Anthony that remains deliberately static right up until the final moments of the play.
The spartan nature of the production puts the entire onus on Phelps to create a sympathetic character out of a textual cipher, and fortunately the actor is more than up to the task. At turns witty, whimsical and wandering, Phelps’ portrayal of the man charms us with his blunt naivete, while at the same time moving us with his depths of sorrow.
If you’re looking for a cathartic, satisfying evening of classical theater, “Title and Deed” won’t hit the spot. If, however, you want to see what Beckett or Pinter might be writing in the present day, as presented by an extremely talented performer, then this show will satisfy you like no other.
“TITLE AND DEED”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through Sept. 16
Where: Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.