“I’m not from here. I never will be,” begins the timid, awkward traveler addressing us from on stage. Equally adrift in the place from where he’s journeyed, which might be somewhere in Ireland as indicated by lyrical inflection, our hero decides to try somewhere else and here is as good (or bad) as anywhere. “They scanned a photo of my retina. Can I get a copy of that for a keepsake, I asked.” Wryly observed airport experiences lead to thoughts on the origin of the species and then his own dour youth as the character called Man makes existential leaps like an easily distracted child.
Word etymology, salads, women, funerals, parents, and the differences between here and there “dividing the world into here and away” provide subject matter just long enough for anecdote or description, occasionally extremely poetic, before they digress with neither rhyme nor reason. Some of the most imaginative material centers on the customs of “home,” which include serenading one’s love with the most difficult musical instrument one can find and holding parades at the drop of a hat. Some of the cleverest involve naïve recognition of everyday occurrence.
Melancholy despite regular protestations to the contrary, hoping against hope, Man is “un-homed,” unfocused, and perhaps unglued, but then, the play suggests, aren’t we all? If you can’t get a handle on Beckett, this piece is not for you. If, on the other hand, he’s your cup of tea, it will crinkle your brow, elicit periodic laughter, and mostly hold your attention with periodic bunted home runs and skilled performance. I squirmed a bit.
Playwright Will Eno has crafted the kind of hidden plan I suspect one can only discern from a distance. Man’s few possessions are so elusive they seem Dadaist.
Conor Lovett (Man) has a beautiful lilting voice which will either put you to sleep or keep you listening for the sheer pleasure of it. Silences which might otherwise be construed as forgetting of lines seem possible direction. Man just goes blank until wayward thoughts circle back. The audience is completely silent. Not a cough. Lovett embodies a character completely detached from his moorings, yet the actor’s focus is complete. It’s discomfiting, but true to the role.
Director, Judy Hegarty Lovett gives Man only the subtlest action. Addressing a particular audience member draws us in when we might perhaps otherwise fade. Pacing is intentionally and successfully unnerving.
Christine Jones’s set appeared at first to be a permanent part of the theater design. Large, flat, geometric shapes cascade from ceiling to stage floor depicting, one surmises, chaos. Andrea Lauer’s costume is pitch perfect- worn, faded, and inconspicuous, but neat.
Pershing Square Signature Theater Center is terrific. Seats are utterly comfortable, well tiered for optimum sightlines, and provide more than sufficient legroom. The bright, airy complex offers a café, bar, bookstore and loads of helpful, young staff. It’s wheelchair accessible. And, subsidized, its tickets are a mere $25!
Title and Deed by Will Eno
Featuring Conor Lovett
Directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett
Pershing Square Signature Theater Center
Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater
480 West 42nd Street
Through June 17, 2012