Just ‘Pain,’ thanks

Avant the garde
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  February 16, 2011

Let there be no confusion: There is no "e" at the end of Thom Pain's name. The subject of Will Eno's one-man dark comedy Thom Pain (based on nothing) is not Rights of Man, but rather man's enduring and interestingly varied state of agony. Electrocuted dogs, lost love, and imaginative self-disgust have brought on just some of the hurt detailed by the title character, whose wounded monologue runs for one more weekend at Lucid Stage, under the direction of Adam Gutgsell.

James Noel Hoban, wearing a cheap black suit and an affect of abject self-loathing, does quite a convincing job of delivering Eno's jagged, blackly funny, fits-and-starts monologue, which sold out at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival and was named as a Pulitzer finalist. Thom talks intimately to us, the Audience, first from a dark stage. Then the lights come up, and he relates his condition, which he presumes to be the human condition: "living in fear, suiting our hurt to our need." He asks us to imagine scenes, things burning. He asks one of us out for a drink, then says never mind. He tells us about a raffle and then tells us that there is no raffle. He cuts himself off. He answers his own rhetorical questions. He contradicts himself. He says, "Whatever." He speaks sorrowfully about alienation, then immediately remarks to a man in the audience that he has the same shirt.

Hoban genuinely conveys internal pain through all this difficult rambling, that's certain. He is particularly good at showing Thom's harrowing self-awareness, which makes everything he feels that much more brutal on him. And though the script keeps us too much at a distance to forge real empathy with Thom, Eno's writing is clever, erudite, and quirkily edgy. Those interested in new playwrights taking the world by storm with non-narrative forms may be interested to sit in Thom's audience, and to sit there with him in his dark.

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