Reviewed by David Walters
THOM PAIN (based on nothing), despite the title, is based on everything.
Written by Will Eno and starring Michael C. Hall, this monologue play, just over an hour, was first presented in 2005 (was a finalist for the Pulitzer that year) and is currently having a revival at Signature Theater as part of their Legacy Program.
Upon arrival, the theater is in a disarray as if preparing for a load-in, with ladders (some up, some down), large water jugs for the workers, plastic hung to protect walls and lighting, blue netting covering the ceiling as if under repair. Nothing is set and ready, nothing is prepared, nothing is complete. The only thing not under construction are the seats.
The lights go to black.
There is the sound of a person shuffling out on stage and they attempt to light a cigarette, once, twice, “I should quit” (a comment about life?).
Like someone who just left the room and is but a memory, through self-deprecating humor and pathos, through fits and starts, Thom (Michael C. Hall) takes us through a life lived, still living, still dying, still trying.
“Poor Thom’s a trying.”
“I’m the type of person you might not hear from for some time, but then, suddenly, one day, bang, you never hear from me again.”
He starts the story, because we all do want a story (the audience proclaimed a resounding YES when asked), with the pain at the end of childhood, telling about a boy (himself, ourselves), a puddle, a stick and an electrocuted dog. That hurt, carried into adulthood, colors his outlook as his life unfolds about his relationships, his friends, his family and his work. He truthfully observes, “Isn’t it wonderful how we never recover?”
The thoughts and observations falling out of his mind are not linear and dance from avoidance, to gallows humor, to deep profundity that will leave you searching those parallels in your own life. There is a deep poetry in Eno’s words (me being a fan of Bukowski), a poetry of reflection, judgement and the bitter irony of what befalls us as we grumble, stumble and tumble through our lives.
Thom plays with the audience throughout the evening, knowing that everyone is momentarily on his journey. Enjoying his limited power, he dangles thoughts and abruptly pulls them away, chastising for even having considered them: “Why is an old lady like a tiny motorcycle? (He waits to see if an answer is forthcoming.) Well, of course, she isn’t, she isn’t at all. You should be disgusted with yourself for even for a second trying to think of how she might be.” As he later acknowledges, this power flex is but an effort to help dampen his own personal pain.
At the beginning of the play, Thom says that he doesn’t like magic, but just as nothing is everything, ultimately this is a play all about magic. The magic of human interaction, through site, through questions and statements, through the exchange of thought and idea, through reaching out, connecting and sharing in order to, “Try to be someone better.”
“I know this wasn’t much, but, let it be enough. Do.”
Thom Pain (based on nothing)
The production runs October 23 through December 2, 2018 on The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues).