Chicago Theatre Review
Expressing the Inexpressible
Title and Deed – Lookingglass Theatre
Will Eno, runner-up for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play “Thom Paine (based on nothing),” has written a new one-man show that introduces his audience to a Traveler from an unnamed locale. In this 70-minute monologue, the Traveler discusses life in a sometimes humorous, often melancholy discourse that relishes language and commonplace phrases that we all use and take for granted.
Mr. Eno’s play is droll, often peculiar and provides very inventive material for the skilled solo performer. The Gift Theatre’s co-founding Artistic Director, Michael Patrick Thornton, plays the Traveler with likable charm and wit. He’s captivating, thought-provoking, at times unexpectedly funny and then suddenly wistful, even sorrowful. Mr. Thornton gives the impression that this voyager from another place, while not exactly shy, is uncomfortable speaking to large audiences. Indeed, at times he seems ill at ease simply using language, in general. Words, he seems to say, are just meaningless sounds devised to express feelings that are inexpressible.
From his first few sentences, Mr. Thornton thoroughly captivates his audience; yet, from time to time, he briefly stops speaking and simply stares off into space. In these oft-occurring silences, the actor appears to have lost his train of thought or even forgotten why he’s on the stage. He looks out to audience or up to the lights for help, as if searching for the words that can fully explain his anguish. Then, just as suddenly, the Traveler finds the vocabulary with which to continue his stories and give voice to his soundless screams of frustration and pain. As a stranger in a strange land, the Traveler asks how really necessary it is for speech, language or words. He wonders if we all don’t feel, as he does, “unhomed;” not homeless, exactly, but always somewhere away from our homes, no matter where we are in the world.
Marti Lyons, who has directorial associations with the Goodman, Steppenwolf and the Gift Theatre, has staged and orchestrated this deceptively simple play with style and a certain homeyness. She’s helped Michael Patrick Thornton discover the rhythms of this piece and to deliver Eno’s monologue with honesty and a natural ease. Daniel Ostling’s sparse platform set and subtle area lighting are effective, yet unobtrusive.
Will Eno’s solo work is a thoughtful examination and exploration of language. He pokes fun at and empathizes with, like his Traveler, our desire to express ourselves with words. As our tour guide through Eno’s wonderland of conversations and conundrums, the talented Michael Patrick Thornton is superb. At one point, Mr. Thornton is discussing food. He suddenly stops and says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t sense much joy here.” But he’s wrong. Through Mr. Thornton’s heartbreaking, yet easygoing and warmly comic performance, there is a great deal of joy among his listeners.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 28-May 3 by Lookingglass Theatre, inside Chicago’s historic Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-337-0665 or by going to www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.