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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Thom Pain (based on nothing)
That was oddly liberating. We now return you to our regularly scheduled, somewhat less random consideration of Thom Pain (based on nothing). This high-wire act of a monologue written by Will Eno and performed by Rainn Wilson has been hugely ballyhooed since its 2004 premiere at the Edinburgh Festival starring James Urbaniak. The Geffen Playhouse engagement is Wilson's first crack at Pain and the actor (a long-time friend of Eno and best known for playing Dwight Schrute on The Office) takes to it like buck to sandpaper.
Sorry, there I go again. Eno, with Wilson as his mouthpiece, pulls off the free associative weirdness with far greater finesse. Indeed, it takes a certain kind of a talent to unleash the mind in this manner and leave it free to roam with such gleeful abandon.
Thom Pain (based on nothing) may feel like an 80-minute existential exercise, but there is a method to the randomness and the performance never jumps the rails. With Oliver Butler directing and Wilson never letting us out of his strangely magnetic grasp, Thom Pain is quirkily captivating.
"How wonderful to see you all," are the first words we hear. They are spoken in total darkness and we can't quite tell if the speaker is being sincere. The narrator tries to light a cigarette and fails, twice. Eventually the lights do come up, but not because of anything he manages to do. "Some things are not up to us," he later informs us. True enough, but some things are.
Pain wears a dark suit and a tie, but he has not dressed for any particular occasion. He does not introduce himself. How he got here, where he is, who we are and what our relationship is to the man who is addressing us is never made clear. Pain makes repeated reference to a raffle and he ultimately brings an audience member on stage. Can't guarantee that these things will happen at &mdash every&mdash performance. You kind of get the idea that Pain is playing things as the mood strikes him.
As previously noted, this existential riffing has a purpose that is part memory, part instruction. Pain tells of a little boy, a wounded dog, and his love for a woman that came to a predictably unfortunate end. "Love cankers all," he says and the man's not malapropping.
Our anti-hero is not here in the interest of fostering a human connection. Granted, Pain is addressing a room full of people and what he has to tell his guests could potentially do them some good. Nonetheless, the man seems to have stepped out of the pages of Samuel Beckett, meaning his future (and, by extension, our own) is probably hugely bleak. With his sad face and slightly quivering hands, Wilson's Pain takes little or no pleasure in whatever humor or entertainment he is affording us. In fact, there are a couple of moments where he actively messes with us.
Given the windy road he takes into, out of, and around the darkness, I'm not sure our aptly named guide genuinely earns the play's final line (which will not be repeated here). Nonetheless, Eno's play is one of those rare occasions when Pain is a good thing.