The Sound of Music. You Can’t Take It With You. Fuddy Meers. Steel Magnolias. None of these plays have anything to do with Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing), other than the fact that they get presented inside performance halls (usually) and have actors in them pretending to be other people who create imaginary realities. Thom Pain (based on nothing) features an actor who pretends to be someone else, too, but he bites into the audience’s reality in ways the above plays’ authors never dreamed of.
Thom Pain (based on nothing) almost won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2005, but it got beat out by a minor opus called Doubt. The New York Times’ Charles Isherwood gushed about it in his February 2, 2005 review, “Will Eno is a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation!” Has Eno actually lived up to that description?
Thom Pain (based on nothing) weaves its own twisted brand of absurdist reality in the Addison Theatre Center Studio Space, under the aegis of Second Thought Theatre. A solo piece in which a youngish man wearing a dark dress suit with no shoes blows the fourth wall to smithereens, it has him alternate actions between assaulting the audience verbally and spatially and attempting to explain how torn up he is over a relationship break-up. It’s a curious, hour-ish long monologue about communication and connection, or their loss. Strung violin taut in form and content, the play presents its themes with lyrical symmetry, justifying its 2005 Pulitzer nomination.
Steven Walters as Thom Pain, the shoeless heart-starved man, gives the most “present”, convincing acting portrayal I’ve observed from him to date. From his first dejected lines delivered haltingly in total darkness to his final sheepish apologia, “I know this wasn’t much, but let it be enough”, Walters enthralls his audience, magician-like. There’s a menacing, hypnotic quality to his performance. He relentlessly assaults the audience with Artaud-like ferocity. “We should become as victims burning at the stake, signaling each other through the flames.”* The audience squirms, tries to get small, closes its eyes and holds its breath, as the peculiar man threatens and cajoles, flirts and bullies, reminisces and emotes at them. Unpredictable. Unstable. Crushingly despondent. At one point he forces a randomly selected audience member (male, over age 40) to join him on stage….
It’s not easy to watch this play, or pleasant. I am not convinced an audience needs, or deserves, this level of assault to feel engaged in performance. I’m not in love with the script. Yet, Thom Pain (based on nothing) executes the ‘cruelty’ genre to a fault. Steven Walters, under Matthew Gray’s subdued, naturalistic direction, performs Will Eno’s caustic, unholy work to perfection.
Second Thought Theatre presents Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) through January 29 in Addison.
Information/ tickets: 214.616.8439 or www.secondthoughttheatre.com
Charles Isherwood’s 2005 NY Times review:
*Antonin Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty: http://www.paratheatrical.com/artaud.html