BWW Reviews: Sideways Storytelling: Santa Barbara Museum of Art Presents THOM PAIN {BASED ON NOTHING}

June 27
3:52 PM 2014
BWW Reviews: Sideways Storytelling: Santa Barbara Museum of Art Presents THOM PAIN {BASED ON NOTHING}

Thom Pain (based on nothing) is Will Eno's one-man show, a rambling monologue of seemingly intertwined stories about the performer's life experiences. Thom Pain is an anxious, agitated character that seems to be in the midst of a manic episode. His monologue may not be based completely on nothing, but it is based enough in a fantastic, fatalistic version of his life events that the audience wonders how much of the piece is based in reality. These stories, about the loss of childhood innocence and the experience of finding and losing love, create a Mobius strip of cause and effect: can Thom Pain's state of emotional instability be attributed to these beautiful, tragic events outside the realm of probability? Or did these events occur in the way he retells them because the character's instability makes him unreliable?

Ultimately, Thom Pain (showing on Saturday at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art) serves to accomplish one important mission: the performance embodies the experience of being uncomfortable, a feeling that spreads through the audience beginning with the opening lines of the show, performed in utter darkness. Pain talks about discomfort, though he describes it more like anguish, and discusses how we, as the human species, can survive and endure through these experiences. While performed impressively by Mitchell Thomas, who manages full emotional investment in this character over an hour of uninterrupted stage time, the incidents he describes are somewhat disjointed, and the audience is left waiting for payoff, expectant via years of conditioning through standard storytelling for these stories to dovetail into synchronicity and meaning; the audience waits almost the entire hour for that gratification. Pain asks questions designed to force critical thought, but his abrupt physicality is that of a struggling manic-depressive in crisis, and the audience is on guard, waiting for him to lose grasp on the tenuous version of reality he presents.

Thom Pain is both weird and unapologetic. The line between humor and the dark, often painful or uncomfortable concepts that underlie the associated jokes is blurred. Segments, if any portion of this maze of language could be considered so, begin firmly planted in comedy, but quickly devolve into that dark place of true comprehension. Interestingly, these transitions are subtle enough that the audience continues to laugh, even as the content of the monologue turns tragic. As the audience realizes the true substance of the aspects of the performance they are laughing at, the laughter becomes nervous, and then trickles off, sinking back into the silence of a group of people waiting to be surprised, even terrified, by the unstable man on stage.

Pain asks the viewers about the nature of fear. "Fear is a word without definition," he says, and yet manages to instill a mild form of this emotion he cannot define or explain in the audience. This was not a one-man show designed to tell a story; this was a show that was created to foist an emotional response on the viewers, and force a shared experience of confusion and discomfort. In a one-person show, often performers will try to be likeable enough, at least, that the audience is sympathetic. Forcing the audience to, instead, be uncomfortable is a daring choice-in this way Thomas and Eno succeed immensely. This theatrical experience is bold and unfettered, the existential ranting of a man on the edge of destruction or discovery.

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