by SOPHIE KERMAN
You know that quirky teacher you had in high school or college, the one whose tangents were always more interesting than whatever the lecture was supposed to be about? The teacher whose class you secretly loved going to, just to hear them ramble about their preoccupations of the day? Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), a 2005 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama by Will Eno, is that lecture, and Sam Landman, in the title role, embodies that teacher so well that I would almost be worried about what the actor is like in real life. Sardonic and smart without ever being inaccessible, the play asks serious questions through the dark humor of a cynical man’s genuine attempt at piecing together a bit of meaning in his life.
Thom Pain describes himself as “a trying man, a feeling thing in a wordy body,” and boy does he have a way with words. Eno’s script plays with imagery that is so vivid you can almost see it on the empty stage; in fact, the success of the play’s scant 70 minutes hinges on Landman’s ability to conjure up different scenes in our mind’s eye. The language is so vivid and presented with such precision that we find ourselves laughing with surprise, shock, and recognition at situations that we have not even seen ourselves.
Though “Thom Pain” tackles the weightiest subjects – childhood, love, materialism, life – the play isn’t really about any single one of them. Like life itself, it is full of uncomfortable stops and starts, incongruous moments, and startling revelations. Director Natalie Novacek has done masterful work with the pace and staging of the show; her smart choices, combined with Landman’s impeccable timing and commitment to his character, ensure that the audience’s attention never has a chance to waver.
Like that crazy college lecture, the play is hilarious, though you might not always be able to say why, and deeply thought-provoking, though the moral or “point” is never clearly spelled out. It is an experience that mimics the random scatteredness of our memories and perceptions of the world, an approach that nevertheless adds up to more than the sum of its parts. This production is a promising conclusion to the Loudmouth Collective‘s first season, an amazing performance by Landman, and a play absolutely worth seeing. In the words of Thom Pain, “except for all the un-fixable problems, everything was perfect.”
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), by Will Eno, produced by the Loudmouth Collective at the Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 East 24th St, Minneapolis, MN 55404. January 11-20, 2012. All seats are $15 ($10 with a Fringe button) and will be sold at the door 30 minutes before curtain. For more information, please call the box office and information line at (612) 643-1231 or visit www.loudmouthcollective.com.