by Deirdre Donovan
wonderful to see you all!” remarks Michael C. Hall as he stands on stage in
total darkness after trying to light a cigarette in the opening scene of Will
Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing). Hall, who plays the
nominal character, gets a big laugh from the audience. And many more will
follow in this compact theater piece, which clocks in at 65 minutes.
is purportedly about a man finding “the meaning of life.” Sound like a
cop-out or affectation on the playwright’s part? Not at all. We
soon enough learn that Eno (The Realistic Joneses) is quite serious
about his premise and proceeds, if not as the crow flies, straight on toward
the audience’s soul.
Thom Pain. He is the entire dramatis personae here. In my press
script, it sums up Pain as a male in his 30’s or 40s, a stray-dog type—but also
an intellectual and charismatic. Yes, Hall is ideal for the part
and wears it like a second skin. Hall projects both the necessary
authority and that je-ne-sais-quoi quality that makes the audience follow his
every move, whether he is on stage or off.
put off by Amy Rubin’s set. True, it is mostly empty except for the odd
prop that becomes incorporated into the monologue to meet the dramatic
moment. In any case, consider it your tabular rasa, an invitation for
your mind to breathe, wonder, and perhaps reach a new imaginative
Schriever’s lighting, not only washes the performing space, but plays pranks on
the protagonist. For example, instead of consistently shining the spotlight on
Hall when he is on stage, it beams down on him willy-nilly, leaving him to
temporarily stand in the shadows. But like everything else that
percolates in the play, the quirky lighting may start out as a gag but ends up
illuminating some aspect of the play or heightening the comic tone.
Pain may frustrate some theatergoers who like their plots traditional
and tidy. But for those who welcome plays that take you down a road less
traveled, this solo drama lets you dive down the rabbit hole and find a brave
new world guided by the character Pain.
issues raised in the play are the basic ones that everyone confronts sooner or
later. Yet when Hall articulates them from center stage, a veil seems to
be lifted: “I guess some things are not really ours to decide. The
shape of the face, say, or whether we’re forgiven or how tall we are.
Where to die and when.” At such moments, Hall holds the audience in the
palm of his hand.
an operative word here. Hall introduces the subject early on and explores
it at greater length later when he discusses the modern mind: “Does it
scare you being face to face with the modern mind? It should. There
is no reason for you to not be afraid. None. Or, I don’t know.
Should I save your life? Should I love you slowly and be true?” As
spoken by Hall, this swath of prose doesn’t pretend to offer any answers to
life’s big questions or define its meaning. But it does reveal that a
beating heart pulses in the protagonist. And it proves that Eno’s work is
more than navel-gazing.
makes the play hum is its weird mix of honesty, philosophical riffs,
surrealism, and its exploration of the human condition. Directed by
Oliver Butler, and performed superbly by Hall, it’s custom-made for
theatergoers who like their theater at the cutting edge.
At the Pershing
Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, Manhattan
information, visit www.signaturetheatre.org
Time: 80 minutes with no intermission.