Sunday, 6 December 2015

Title and Deed

There are only about a dozen of us in the room-- fourteen at most.  We are grouped in a rough U-shape, on an assortment of chairs, in a space that used to be a classroom.  It feels like a somewhat dishevelled living room, with an odd mix of lamps and area rugs scattered about.  A young slightly uncomfortable-looking man appears in our midst.  He moves about, switching lights on and off, and looking nervously at the clock at the front of the room.

 "I'm not from here.  I guess I never will be," he says.

And so begins the Toronto production of Title and Deed, performed by Christopher Stanton,  directed by my talented friend Stewart Arnott, and written by Will Eno, a profound and unique voice in American contemporary drama.

 I'm here because I am very interested in Stewart's work.   I also believe that the key to the great beating heart of this city is in its smaller, more intimate artistic expressions-- the plays, the music performances, and art exhibits that draw small audiences but inspire big thoughts.

Christopher Stanton in "Title and Deed"
Title and Deed is unsettling.  It's also mesmerizing.  The play's one and only performer is simply called 'the Man.'   He moves around amongst us, telling us about his homeland, a small un-named country where people speak English, but everything is just a little bit weird and unrecognizable... It's a place where citizens celebrate the most mundane events, like a child having his braces removed.  Where people don't have birthstones, but birth-clouds.  Where lovers woo their intended by playing the tuba.

It feels ever so vaguely familiar, yet also very foreign.  The Man appears to be trying to find his way out of his loneliness by talking to the 12 or 14 strangers who are his audience. He lapses into moments of despair, then valiantly attempts to pulls himself out of it-- to convince us and himself that he really isn't a sad person-- that life itself is something to celebrate and enjoy.  At other moments, he's overcome with rage, unable to contain his frustration with his "alone-ness."

It becomes clear that he is in the midst of a deep personal crisis -- that he believed moving to a new land to start a new life would help him.  But over the course of his monologue, he becomes aware that home and happiness do not come about simply by changing our physical location.

It is impossible not to engage and to relate to Man's profound desire to belong.  Somewhere.  Anywhere.

As I leave the tiny theatre, I'm finally able to read the program, which I did not have time or lighting to read before the performance.  It is a single sheet of paper with a lot of small writing on it.  As I study it in the brighter light of the venue's foyer, I see that is not a program in the traditional sense-- it's a page from a dictionary.  A page where the words begin with the letter H.

H-O-M-E...  Home.  Homebred.  Homeless.  Homeward.  Homer.  Homestead.  Homicide.  Homily...

So many meanings from a single root.

Title and Deed: November 18-December 6, 2015 
Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw Street, Toronto.  

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