TITLE AND DEED

Circa Two, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

14/09/2022 - 24/09/2022

Otago Pioneer Women's Hall, 362 Moray Place, Dunedin

22/03/2023 - 24/03/2023

TAHI FESTIVAL 2022

Dunedin Fringe Festival 2023

Production Details


By Will Eno
Directed by Jeff Kingsford-Brown

Presented by Titled Productions


‘Some people travel only to look, while others come to see.’ – Tenzing Norgay to Edmund Hillary on the slopes of Everest…

Title and Deed is a provocative, engaging play by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Horton Foote Prize winner Will Eno, whom the New York Times called “a Samuel Beckett” for the Jon Stewart generation.

Title and Deed is a work that stirs the heart and asks the audience to look within – to listen closely or drift off uncontrollably as he speaks directly about the notion of home and the notion of the world; whatever that means to each of us.

Behold the newest nobody of the funniest century yet. He’ll speak to you directly about the notion of home, the world, delivered with the authority that is the special province of the unsure and the un-homed, a word he made up accidentally, all in roughly one hour!

Actor/Director Steven Ray is bringing New York writer Will Eno’s monologue, Title and Deed to Wellington in September. It will be part of the Tahi Festival and in Circa Two from Weds 14 – Sat 24th September 2022.

This will be the first performance of Title and Deed in Aotearoa New Zealand although the play has been performed in Edinburgh, New York and Australia.

Circa Two
14 – 24 Sept 2022
Tues – Sat 7.30pm
Sun 4.30pm
$25 – $35 (and a $50 combo ticket to both Tahi Festival shows at Circa)
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Part of TAHI Festival 2022

At DUNEDIN FRIINGE FESTIVAL 2023

‘I imagine myself striking out onto the world, one foot in the grave, the other in my mouth, and how’s anyone supposed to walk like that?’

At a time of life when most people are taking it easy, actor Steven Ray has taken on his first solo show.
The veteran actor has worked throughout the country for five decades in everything from ‘Cats’ to ‘The Hobbit’, but never alone on stage, with just words, a bag and a stick to keep him company.
His show ‘Title and Deed’ is full of gorgeously inventive and lyrical anecdotes by the US playwright Will Eno, who is often likened to that other maverick wordsmith, Samuel Beckett.

We are all embarked upon a curious, aimless journey from nowhere to nowhere — or to put it a bit more cheerily, from somewhere to somewhere else — according to the fascinating stranger in ‘Title and Deed’, a haunting and often very funny meditation on life as a state of permanent exile.
‘Title and Deed’s’ wandering everyman muses on the notion of home and of the world; of parades, loss, love, Birth Clouds – all of it delivered with the authority that is the special province of the unsure and the un-homed, a word he made up accidentally.

The running time, if he doesn’t die or think of anything else, is roughly one hour.

‘Title and Deed’ is part of the Dunedin Fringe Festival 2023.
It plays at 6pm on March 22, 23, 24 at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Hall
Tickets $15 at dunedinfringe.nz


2022
Performed by Steven Ray

2023
The Traveller: Steven Ray

Dunedin Season:
Production Manager / Publicist - Karen Elliot
Graphic Design - Matt Best
Production Support - Jeff Kingsford-Brown
Paul McLaughlin
Murray Lynch, Playmarket


Solo , Theatre ,


1 hr

Exquisitely crafted fragments

Review by Andrew McKenzie 23rd Mar 2023

This show was presented in the Otago Pioneer Women’s Memorial Hall: a cosy set of carpeted club rooms with an attractive stained-glass window in the entrance chamber. Inside the main room, seats were set out in a gentle semi-circle, with a few simple theatre lights on stands helping to illuminate the performance space. The room remained lit throughout the performance, giving the show the feel of a slightly bare, ‘workshop’ presentation, but also allowing the actor (Steven Ray, touring from Wellington) to regularly interact with his audience, interrogating us and responding self-reflexively to our reactions as the play unfolded.

The play, written by New York playwright Will Eno, is an exquisitely crafted set of fragments, recollections, and meditations, strung into a monologue lasting just under an hour, recounted by a character known as ‘The Traveller.’ It is primarily a ‘spoken word’ play. It’s also very funny and wry, couched heavily in the abstract and self-referential. Recalling the tradition of Absurdist or Existential Theatre, its scenes float by like the clouds the Traveller describes in a section just past the middle. The audience is invited to listen or let their minds wander as it plays out. 

The Traveller has arrived here from an unspecified place, is staying for an unspecified time, and seems to be trapped in the liminal spaces of modern existence: airport waiting lounges; taxi fares in between city blocks; the vagaries of memory and the present; the moments of birth and death; the abstract and the real. In the tradition of the genre, the Traveller is ‘stuck’ in these spaces – and so, by extension, is the audience. To paraphrase a joke in the play: we are born with one foot in the grave and the other in our mouth – so how are we meant to walk through life? But unlike the post-war Eurocentric absurdist comedies, which tend to be cloying and oppressive beneath the surface, there is a spaciousness and freedom belying this script which possibly reflects the contemporary American context it comes from. This is an existential angst that seems to stem from having too much freedom and time, rather than too many dictatorships and war. 

The text is obsessed with language and its slippery-fish-like connection with reality: euphemisms, phrases, idioms, metaphor, and the onomatopoeic quality of words are all ransacked for their ambiguity and fallibility. Even the show’s moniker appears to be a joke on the tension between language (‘title’) and phenomenon (‘deed’). For word lovers, students of semiotics, post modernists, and good listeners, there is a veritable feast to be enjoyed here. But for followers of the absurd, there are no bold theatrical gestures such as a room full of chairs hanging from the ceiling, or a character stuck up to their neck in shit, or neighbours turning into rhinoceroses. Perhaps the script itself is too heavy on titles and not enough in deeds? Or am I a bit naïve, expecting more meaning in this post-everything age? A central image of the play, where the Traveller opens an empty box to show to the audience, seems to sum up the point well.

Dressed in a cloudy-white suit, with only a bag, a stick, and a chair borrowed from the audience for props, Ray delivers a clear, crafted vocal performance, delivering each phrase with colour and nuance so we can fully appreciate the verbal structures underpinning the text. I understood every word. His physical style is contained, with a minimum of gesture outside of the illustrative, and he seems to be taking care to stay out of the way of the text by not colouring outside of the lines. It reads as a fairly ‘polite’ performance. Depending on your disposition as an audience member, one could interpret this as a model of restrained (or suppressed) irony, ‘winking’ at us, and serving the script well, but I yearned for a character who went through a greater range of emotional contrasts and played with more defiance: to ‘rage against the dying of the light,’ as it were. I like my existential farces to rattle the cage a bit more. For instance, in the penultimate scene, where the Traveller beats himself with his own stick, I wanted more savagery and despair to make us truly uncomfortable. Either that, or more irony. Also, I wished for more support from the staging and design to heighten the production. Perhaps the quality of the script made this reviewer greedy for more than a touring Fringe production could – or should – deliver? 

I thank the performer and production team for bringing this beautiful work to us. The delivery was lucid, varied, and assured. The text is rich and challenging. I’m betting it will rank as some kind of contemporary classic of the genre before long – we should seize the opportunity to catch it.

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Steven Ray captivating in TAHI Festival play

Review by Sarah Catherall 22nd Sep 2022

A nameless wandering man comes on stage and we wonder who is he? Do we care? Should we care? What will this older man dressed in a safari suit have to tell us?

Over the next hour, this eternally wandering everyman is portrayed by the actor and director Steven Ray in a captivating solo performance as he explores the notion of home, the world, our existence and the fragility of life in these uncertain times. [More]

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A curiously absorbing play on ways of being

Review by John Smythe 15th Sep 2022

Playwright Will Eno has been described in the New York Times as “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.” Indeed – that is, in Title and Deed – there is a similarity with Samuel Beckett’s best known play, Waiting for Godot, in that nothing much happens, although Beckett famously has it not happening twice.

As the houselights come up, after the solo actor has taken his bow, people huddle to seek clarification from each other. I find myself suggesting it’s something like Odysseus adrift, with an ambivalent attitude to the concept of home.

The play’s name, Title and Deed, certainly suggests a place to call home yet Eno’s traveller character, a man with no name – played by Steven Ray, directed by Jeff Kingsford-Brown – seems to regard ‘home’ as a place not to be. So now he is here, where he is “not from and never will be.” Not a migrant, then. Nor a refugee. There is a sense that he’s just passing through.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re out in the backyard or across the coldest ocean,” he says. “You are and will always be away from home, not at home. Not homeless, per se, necessarily, but un-homed.”

Ray’s sartorial cream and white clothing, and references to wooden cartwheels on cobblestones, suggest an Edwardian era traveller – of independent means, since there is no mention of his earning his living. He could be both titled and entitled. But maybe that’s taking a literary device too literally. After all he also mentions having his iris scanned at the border. Perhaps he is no man in particular and everyman (meaning human) in general, domiciled in a state of mind.

Title and Deed prescribes no one way of being on stage. It premiered in 2012 at the Signature Theatre, New York City, with Irish devotees of Beckett, Connor Lovett and Judy Hegarty Lovett, as actor and director respectively, and reports suggest they brought a melancholy tone to it. In 2016 at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre, indigenous Australian actor Jimi Bani played the man, directed by Larrakia, Yanuwa, Bardi and Wardaman person Jada Alberts. I’m guessing this brought a ‘stranger in his own land’ connotation to the piece.

Steven Ray brings a light, relaxed and whimsical tone to the Titled Productions season at Circa, punctuated with moments of bewilderment when he loses his way and has to ask the operator, Scott Maxim, where he is now. (I had thought these were dries but now realise it’s a scripted metatheatrical device.) The ubiquitous existential questions “why am I here” and “what’s it all about?” are ever-present but free of angst – although the clicking jaw that besets him every now and then does provoke an echo of Munch’s ‘Silent Scream’.

Despite joking to a Customs officer that he’s “here to save us all”, this character seems to have no motivating objective beyond musing on life in general, with tantalising hints of his own past life and loves, for no better reason than that he finds himself here with us and it’s something to do. Yet the states of being he mentions and the questions he asks are somehow familiar.

This man likes the mystery and miracle of words, and mostly plays with them gently. He talks about having “one foot in the grave, the other in my mouth” and recalls, “there was always a roof over my head to sit on.” His arrival through Customs segues into musing on social customs, like how to proceed “having decided on your intended”.

He is quite the romantic, yet questions arise regarding deeds done by him, with or to Lauren in a graveyard, then with or to blonde Lisa on Trivia Night. Someone called Brian has also featured in his past. It seems something unseemly remains unspoken. Given he has asked us not to hate him, we’re on the lookout for why we might.

There are hints of deeds done to or by him by or to his father and mother, both dead now. “A homesick orphan” is one way he sees himself. But what provokes the observation, “If you’ve nothing good in your heart or head, you will always be away from home”? He speaks of what he saw on a walk on a dark winter’s night and concludes it was a sight he was born to see, if he was born for a reason.

While he travels light, “wandering in a wilderness of doubt”, his luggage includes a stout stick which he suddenly employs in a shocking way. Does this recall a deed done to him or by him?

It’s literal thirst that makes him leave, leaving us with a thirst for understanding. Is Title and Deed simply a dramatisation of a state of mind brought on by loss and loneliness or is there more to his story than meets the ear and eye, here and now? Either way, this is a curiously absorbing play on ways of being.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Footnote:
Will Eno’s solo play Thom Pain (based on nothing) was produced by The Court Theatre at The Forge in 2007, by Silo Theatre at The Herald in 2010 and by Fortune Theatre in the Studio in 2016.

Comments

John Smythe September 16th, 2022

Thank you John - and how interesting! Getting lost and finding his place again seemed so 'on point'.

John Marwick September 15th, 2022

Three of us saw Title and Deed on the second night tonight and really enjoyed it. Sad that's there was only an audience of seven (including two ushers). What wonderful language delivers so skillfully about the human condition. By the way there was no moment of asking for help or 'where are we' so I don't think it was a meta-theatrical moment, John. Though Stephen's acting would, I am sure, have coped wonderfully with that moment too; It really felt like he was addressing each of us very personally.

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