Will Eno, the philosophical wordsmith whose quirky theater pieces draw comparisons with Samuel Beckett, went right to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, by writing a monologue for the eminent Beckett interpreter Conor Lovett and his collaborator, helmer Judy Hegarty Lovett. “Title and Deed,” an existential rumination on home and the absence of home, is choice Eno — pensive, lyrical, deeply funny and profoundly sad. Lovett uses his melodic voice and suffering eyes to give corporeal shape to Eno’s meditations, and in the process, puts what amounts to a hex on the aud, who seem entirely happy to be hypnotized.The unnamed Man played by Lovett immediately engages his captive audience by speaking directly to us, in what sounds like our own language. But his first words — “I’m not from here. I guess I never will be” — make it clear that he’s a stranger, a traveler, a foreigner. Not one of us. Having announced his theme with his first lines, Eno proceeds to analyze the condition of existential alienation from every conceivable angle, entrusting Lovett to make us feel both the pain and the possibilities of being rootless. All this amiable stranger asks of us is that we don’t hate him — and that we keep the screaming to ourselves. That’s a perfect example of the subtle way Eno works: putting it into our heads that we might, or even should hate this man — and that at some point in this one-sided conversation, we might feel like screaming. Once he’s declared his state of social isolation, the speaker goes on to explore that condition with wry, occasionally bleak humor. The food (all those weird salads!) is foreign to him. We don’t share his over-emotional native music. (“I haven’t noticed a lot of wailing or keening or screaming around here.”) And he misses the horses and the cobblestones back home, although come to think of it, they’ve gone from there, too. Most upsetting, although we speak the same language, we don’t share his own exquisite sensitivity to the fragile beauty of the spoken word. If we studied etymology as he does, “you’d shed some serious tears at the long and trembling history of those frail little sounds, made up out of nowhere.” But his critical observations are something of a sham. For all the cultural differences he’s observed, what this sad stranger really longs for is human connection. Detached from home (“the place where the hat’s hanging and the placenta’s buried”) and out of range of “the howls of my ancestors,” he appeals to his audience for help. He anxiously queries us about any ceremonies and customs we might share, those familiar rituals — the parades, or if no parades, then the funerals — – that comfort us for the simple reason that they are familiar rituals that connect us. But at some point, the question does occur: does this amiable but vulnerable stranger really want to be connected to our savage lot? “I don’t sense much joy, around here, with all of you,” he says, disappointment all over his face. Or, rather, disappointment all over Lovett’s face, because it’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role. The thesp’s amazing technique can be analyzed — the intelligent attack, the in-the-moment engagement, the sudden bewilderment followed by one of those scary Beckettian pauses — but not bottled. Like a singer, his voice is his instrument, with its own peculiar cadences and distinctive musical tone. The instrument itself is beautiful, with extraordinary warmth on the surface and deep undercurrents of humor and horror, and helmer Hegarty Lovett, who has directed her husband in almost a dozen solo shows for their company, Gare St Lazare Players Ireland, plays this instrument like a true maestro. But in the end and in the dark, it really does sound like the voice in your own head.
Signature Center; 191 seats; $25 top
A Signature Theater Company presentation, in association with Gare St Lazare Players Ireland, of a play in one act by Will Eno. Directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett. Set, Christine Jones; costume, Andrea Lauer; lighting, Ben Stanton; production stage manager, Donald Fried. Opened May 20, 2012. Reviewed May 18. Running time: ONE HOUR, TEN MIN.
With: Conor Lovett.