Fringe review: ‘Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno’

Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno, the ubiquitous theater company, Orlando. Yellow venue, 60 minutes, $10.

By Elizabeth Maupin
Elizabeth Maupin on Theater

David Lee

Put one of Samuel Beckett’s characters in a neo-’50s dark suit, give him a major case of irony and what you might get is Thom Pain (based on nothing), Will Eno’s widely praised monologue, which has made it to the Fringe in the person of actor/director David Lee.

Eno’s cryptic show caused a stir when it opened off-Broadway in 2005 and became a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Now it’s causing a stir at the Orlando Fringe, where more than any other entry it is confounding audience members — some of whom love it, but most of whom are asking each other what it all means.

In Thom Pain, Lee arrives onstage in darkness, and the character’s refusal to allow the lights to go on is symptomatic of a show in which he tells his audience to go f*#k itself again and again. Actually, he only says it once, but Lee’s deadpan, above-it-all manner makes it clear that the audience’s desires are not part of the character’s plans.

He goes on to describe a little disabled boy whose dog is electrocuted in a puddle, among other dismal images, and he muses about the awfulness of existence: “You just try to keep on living but it all seems so useless,” and “Maybe I was just born with a headache.”

But then he breaks into his questions about life (“What if you had only one day to live? What would you do?”) with a whole host of postmodern non sequiturs — “‘You’ve changed,’ she said, the day we met.” and “Now would be a good time for the raffle.”

Lee’s mostly expressionless, slightly snarky manner can make all this tough going, although his authoritative stance and take-no-prisoners attitude can also be very funny.

But you have to work hard at Thom Pain, even when the nihilistic images begin to come together and you realize, all too far along, that the man onstage probably is the boy in the puddle and that his surname is Pain for a reason. It’s a bleak world he lives in. Beckett would understand.

Remaining shows:
Monday May 23, 6 p.m.
Wednesday May 25, 9:10 p.m.
Thursday May 26, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday May 28, 1:40 p.m.

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