By Patrick Hurley
Will Eno’s 2005 Pulitzer-Prize finalist play Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), playing now through Feb 14 at the Geffen Playhouse, features a wonderfully dry Rainn Wilson as it’s title character.
A solo performance, a monologue really, well actually it’s more of a stream-of-consciousness rant that feels off-the-cuff and occasionally uncomfortable. Playwright Will Eno has composed an evening of theatre without a set, without any special lighting, no costume pieces, no props, no plot, no rising action, no climactic scene, no scenes at all, in fact, and strangely enough, the result is as riveting as anything you’ll find in theatre today.
An exposition on the terrible loneliness of existence, on the need for love, and just the chaotic randomness of life, the play is mostly hilarious, but manages profundity when we’re least expecting it. Mr. Eno is such a gifted writer that the absurdity in his humor slowly and gently punctuates his darker, deeper themes. So much so, that by the time we get to Thom’s last lines there is a surprising resonance that washes over the somewhat still bewildered audience.
This production, directed by Oliver Butler, is a triumph. It’s an exercise in minimalist theatre. It’s one of those rare gifts that proves that words are still perhaps the most important part of theatre. That with words and a gifted actor, the world of the play can exist entirely inside language. And that is exactly where this world resides, in the sometimes rambling thoughts that are vocalized by the protagonist Thom. And just when you think his rambling is going on and on, there’s an extended silence as we watch him contemplate something.
What is he contemplating? We soon learn that it doesn’t matter. What does matter? In the world of this play, it’s hard to tell, but it’s completely fascinating to try and figure out. And in the end, it is perhaps more telling about our search for meaning as an audience, than Thom’s search for coherency as a performer.
Another glaring reason that this production is so successful is the wonderful performance of Rainn Wilson (Most notably known for playing Dwight on NBC’s The Office). He is captivating. He has an almost hypnotic ability with this role. He speaks so softly for large chunks of time that you’ll find yourself almost leaning in to make sure you don’t miss anything. This is highlighted with his line, “I speak softly because I want to be heard.” He knows exactly how to handle the randomness of the material. His deft comic timing, matched with his ability to allow awkwardness to pervade moments of stillness or silence, topped with an overwhelming sense of sadness that pervades his mostly expressionless face, makes him entirely fascinating to watch.
This entire production, clocking in at a brisk 80 minutes, is a complete joy. It’s incredible to consider that a man standing on an empty stage with no props, for eighty minutes, expounding on love, loneliness, and the terrible nature of existence could be so exhilarating, hysterically funny, and thought-provoking. And while it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it should not be missed by anyone who appreciates the magic of theater.
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)
By Will Eno
Directed by Oliver Butler
Starring Rainn Wilson
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90024
Sat 3PM & 8PM