Chicago Theater Review: TITLE AND DEED (Lookingglass Theatre Company)

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by Lawrence Bommer on March 29, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

IN DEED HE DOESN’T

Will Eno’s 2012 solo script, now in a Midwest premiere, represents quite a departure (almost a repudiation) of Lookingglass Theatre Company’s vintage style. Here be no flying trapezes, dangling performers, sudden trap doors, harnesses and stilts, rabbits pulled out of a hole. Lasting a bit over an hour, Title and Deed (a, well, title that can refer to almost anything within the monologue) is performed on a bare stage, in a wheelchair, by Michael Patrick Thornton (his disability has nothing to do with his unnamed character). With no movement other than this ambulatory chair, it’s like a spartan “anti-Lookingglass” took over their Water Works stage. Someone decided to find out if less is really more.

Michael Patrick Thornton in TITLE AND DEED at Lookingglass Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Well, more and/or less. As self-effacing as the material, Marti Lyons’ staging is simply the character on stage and at stake. Enacted by Thornton with dismissive self-denigration, he remains a concentrated conundrum, a man with a stick that could double as a wand. The one certainty is that he feels himself a foreigner, “a lovesick orphan with no compass” whose favorite word to the audience is “Sorry.” Alienated from his parents, reciting with a flat and sometimes flippant deadpan, he reaches out to the audience as he tries to make sense of this latest fork in the road of his “trajectory.” His tentative use–and suspicion–of language as he tries to make “sense” of his stream of consciousness put almost every other word in quotation marks. This stranger is doomed to never be un-strange.

Michael Patrick Thornton in TITLE AND DEED at Lookingglass Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Almost making himself up as he goes along (with the proviso that he disappears when not speaking), Thornton’s lonely soul tentatively tells us about interchangeable lost loves named Lauren and Lisa, his wasted tuba serenades, his memory of a mother who has none of him, and his concept of life as a string of funerals until one where we’re center stage like him (the final dead end). He seldom makes a declaration without retracting it. He’s a “good person but not deep down.” With a cryptic combination of gallows humor, passive-aggressive defensiveness, and faux naïveté, he calls himself “lucky.” But his disengaged astonishment with the new world he’s reached (new holidays to understand!) and disillusionment with the vague one he abandoned seems anything but fortunate. He engages us only with putatively earnest inquiries, only to push us away with sudden inanities.

Michael Patrick Thornton in TITLE AND DEED at Lookingglass Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren.

An exercise in almost mischievous minimalism, Title and Deed is the artistic equivalent of Gertrude Stein’s reduction of Oakland: “There’s no there there.” It’s as if the Beckett-like indomitability that made Vladimir and Estragon unintentionally heroic is now an excess of assurance. In our doubt-dogged 21st century any self-assertion is constantly qualified and conditional. We’ve reached the point where the usual question with which we confront confessions–“Why is he telling us this?”–becomes irrelevant. This man lives through his lines and the rest really is silence.

Like the play, the production tests your capacity to care. You may not relish the results.

Michael Patrick Thornton in TITLE AND DEED at Lookingglass Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren.photos by Liz Lauren

Title and Deed
Lookingglass Theatre Company
Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan
ends on May 3, 2015
for tickets, call (312) 337-0665
or visit www.lookingglasstheatre.org

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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