Title and Deed
If you’ve never heard that title before and thus don’t know what to think about this review then don’t worry, because neither had I a few days ago and neither do i now, having actually seen it performed. Oh yeah, it’s a play…or something like that. It was without a doubt performed in a theater, in the Signature Theater Perishing Square Center to be specific. Signature are an up and coming – but also fully formed – company that caught my eye for two reasons: firstly they have a number of great names on residency, many of them premiering works this month and secondly all of these shows are going to be locked in at the low, low price of Twenty Five dollars; an amazing combination. Though it is usually used as a compliment, I have to say that with this Title I unfortunately only got my monies worth.
See the Signature Center is a vast and very comfortable building designed by the distinguished Frank Gehry that features three intimate but intricate theaters and for Title we shuffled into one of them, the Griffin, only to find that we needn’t have done, the show itself could have been performed in the lobby or a lounge room to just as much effect. The sole performer utilized the stage like we did our seats, statically; though this may well have been part of the point, who knows? So yeah it was a one man show ( something that I didn’t know going into it) but only in terms of performance, behind the scenes there was another man who wrote the script and a woman who directed it, not mention the crew.
If that sounds unusual and like nothing that you’ve really heard or heard of, then you’re in the same position as I, but it gets stranger yet by becoming more familiar. See the show isn’t even a simple soliloquy or monologue, he isn’t up there to recite odes of old or tell us the tragic tale of a land far, far away; instead what we are given is essentially scripted stand-up. “Isn’t all stand up scripted’ excluding improv?” you may be intoning internally. Well yes, but again not quite in the way that this is: the man on stage is not speaking for himself, he is playing a character, one who says things that another man thought of, he is an actor; and yet he doesn’t behave like one.
He stares out at us between speeches, ‘breaking’ by noticing noises and acknowledging audience reactions ( sometimes real, sometimes imagined) and pausing for laughs like a comedian does, but just as frequently pausing for pondering. See this isn’t strictly speaking a comedy either, the laughs come only once for every three or four lines, the left overs there to line up some thought or idea inside our heads. Title is as the screens outside say, “Existential Stand-up”; a term I initially took to be less than literal but one which surmises the script quite sharply.
What is most interesting to me about the script is perhaps the way that both the light and heavy lines are written in the same style as stand-up, even if they are delivered in these serious surroundings. Comedy of this sort is predominantly about two things: observation and wordplay, both of which figure frequently in Title. The character of The Man is a traveller, he starts of by telling us about airport security, as all good comedians do, and from there his act essentially boils down to making comparisons between the subtly surreal somewhere that he came from and the slightly skewed version of ‘here’ that we find ourselves in now. He brings up the alien traditions of his hometown and compares them to our own, breaking don’t every common and cliche phrase that he bumps into along the way just like a comic does, but the effect he archives in doing so is drastically different. Occasionally we laugh, but mostly we mediate on the meaning of what he has just said.
The second unusual unfortunate of the night is best described by the two people who walked out in front of me, one turning to the other and saying, ” It was very… Subtle, wasn’t it?” and although i think she meant it mainly as an ambiguous statement, one she could shape to fit her partners opinion once she was given it, it was nonetheless an authentic answer. Title and Deed is very subtle, perhaps overly so. During his monologue the man will often stop midway through a sentence, seemingly realizing that what he was saying wasn’t right, or true or to the point; and when he would finish a point it was always punctuated with an “…or something.” or “…who knows?” in this way Title and Deed isn’t putting forward a philosophy like most plays do, but deconstructing our own and the way in which we use it, the way in which we watch the world and the shows put on within it.
Thus Title is only as successful as the imagination and intelligence that you bring into it, two things I am seemingly lacking a little of for I found it to be fascinating but never quite fantastic. It constantly evaded the clench of my fingers, its meaning missed by but a mite; like life’s i guess. Do I regret seeing it? Not at all. Can I recognize it’s intelligence and importance? Absolutely. Do I hope that the next Signature screenplay has a little more of a story to it? Yeah. Still Title is a most fascinating production and as a traveller myself, someone who is as far away from home as the man on stage and misses it just as much it spoke to me in a sentimental way, I’m just still waiting for my mind to catch up to my emotions. Perhaps when it does I will be able to give this play the praise it probably deserves, or maybe on further thought it will fall apart as meaningless…who knows?