Conor Lovett in Title and Deed
(© Joan Marcus)
Conor Lovett in Title and Deed
(© Joan Marcus)
Conor Lovett delivers a marvelously modulated and gently compelling performance in Will Eno's newest play, Title and Deed, at Signature Center. Directed with care and a beautiful eye for detail by Judy Hegarty Lovett, the piece proves to be an always fascinating and surprisingly moving 70 minutes of theater.

Title and Deed imagines a man who has newly arrived in our country as he delivers a kind of confessional about his homeland and his experiences, both as a child and an adult. During the course of the play, he covers everything from the penchant the people in his native land have for celebrating even the most minor events in life ("We, God, back there, we'd throw a parade for anything.") to a few brief dates he's had with a woman since traveling here: the person who has provided him with what becomes the piece's savory motto: "Don't get too lost for too long."

What emerges from his humorous, sometimes stream-of-conscious patter (some might say ramblings) is a heartfelt exploration of the transience of everything in this life, from words themselves to relationships to our very existence. As with Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing), the piece very much invokes the spirit of Samuel Beckett, but without the bleakness and despair that theatergoers may associate with the Irish writer's work.

Indeed, it's nearly impossible to feel any sense of darkness in the presence of performer Lovett, who clad in a blue jacket, light shirt and dark trousers (costume design by Andrea Lauer), manages to exude a certain sunniness throughout the piece. What may impress most about his work is not only his ability to extenuate each syllable in a phrase, simultaneously luxuriating in the very presence of Eno's words and maximizing their impact on theatergoers.

When Lovett ponders etymology and the effect that considering a word's origin might have on a person, he imbues the phrase "you'll shed some serious tears at the long and trembling history of these frail little sounds, made up out of nowhere" with a palpable sensuousness.

Lovett's cunning delivery of the text is beautifully supported by his ability to make his character's unassuming and almost retiring persona curiously commanding. When Lovett silently considers one of the belongings that comes from the canvas messenger bag he's carried onstage, he seems to be concurrently apologizing for the digression while also demanding that theatergoers' lavish their own attention on it.

The production unfolds on a stage that scenic designer Christine Jones leaves bare, but envelops with a series of suspended irregularly shaped panels, making it look as if Lovett is delivering Eno's shrewdly crafted monologue within a geodesic figure mid-explosion. It's a terrific visual metaphor for this work that ultimately asks the audience to consider the preciousness and ramifications of each split-second of life.