PITTSFIELD — The spare physical setting for Chester Theatre Company’s season opening production of Will Eno’s “Title and Deed” at Hancock Shaker Village incorporates a few oddly angled structures, the most prominent of which contains a door from which the play’s sole character appears, having first looked over the spacious area around it and through which he disappears just over an hour later.
Played nimbly by James Barry in a remarkably sustained low-key, less-is-definitely-more performance, Eno’s nameless peripatetic figure comes to us from away — some other country perhaps; some other planet, perhaps, with its own vocabulary; its own way of identifying things; its own cultural touchstones, among them a ritual at birth in which a newborn is given not a birthstone, but, rather, a birth cloud. This birth rite honors the trajectory of life — birth, transformation, death. This stranger in a strange land is in search of his place along that trajectory; a place he may never find.
Cleanly dressed, bearded, his hair somewhat in disarray, Barry’s nameless traveler carries with him a bag with all his belongings — a well-rounded stick and an empty metal box.
Along the course of a just-over one-hour monologue we pick up scant references to his former life; his former home; his parents, particularly his mother — both of whom have died. “I miss my mom and dad,” he says at one point, “whoever I am.”
He is an exile; “not homeless, per se, necessarily, but, un-homed,” he says. He is seeking community, connection. He has found here, in this tent at Hancock Shaker Village, a gathering — “people don’t gather enough anymore,” he says.
He speaks in a kind of measured stream of consciousness; halting at times to reflect on what he’s just said; reversing field; uncertain; self-correcting. Much is left unsaid. His tone is quiet, frequently verging on apologetic. “I have a sad way of talking,” he says, “but that’s my voice.”
Director Keira Naughton’s smoothly flowing production playfully acknowledges its physical location — a huge tent surrounded by farmland — by incorporating it into the monologue (Eno has written some new lines specifically for this run) and James McNamara’s soundscape.
Barry is masterly in a play that often asks more from its audience, its “gathering,” than it is prepared to deliver. But even with Barry’s consummate skills — his timing; his rhythms; his keen sense of nuance and the colors of language — “Title and Deed” connects far more on an intellectual plane than an emotional one.
‘“I think words wear you down,” he says at one point. “Some words take a toll.”