Thom Pain (based on nothing)
Theater Wit at Viaduct (see Resident companies). By Will Eno. Dir. Jeremy Wechsler. With Lance Stuart Baker.
What makes Will Eno’s monologue on the alienated modern man so resonant is that Lance Baker doesn’t play him as such. Both Baker and director Wechsler resist the temptation to treat Thom Pain’s “based on nothing” as a disaffected manner covering empty matter—which would be the temptation with this Beckettian one-man show, an Off Broadway hit in 2005. Telling a sad boy’s sad story and his own sad love affair, Baker’s alienated self isn’t an empty self but one reeling against such emptiness; Baker reels captivatingly. More than the every-no-man of absurdist literature, Baker’s Thom Pain is a specific one. He’s that guy, the creepy, abject guy you don’t exactly like but can’t quite dislike, whose dyspeptic, disenchanted and self-consciously clever worldview intrigues as much as it distances. He reflects, and knows he does, your own sad soul.
“When did your childhood end?” Pain asks in a hypnotic monotone while, from both sides, spotlights cast an equally hypnotic spell (once again first-rate design by Keith Parham). With eyes that suggest both hangdog and hangman, the unshowy Baker, in an undertaker’s black suit, speaks directly to us, discomfiting without wholly estranging. We’re made as ill-at-ease as his character, uncertain if he will call on us—until he does and, continuing Eno’s riff on the stand-up genre, draws a hapless audience member onstage. Here, with this human contact, Pain’s story turns circuitously personal, briefly attaining what he calls “unaloneness.” As the 70 minutes close, we don’t just witness Pain’s alienation; we feel his pain.—Novid Parsi