Thom Pain (Based On Nothing)

  • Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Review by Polly Wittenberg


    Review by Polly Wittenberg

    This 70-minute monologue about �the pain of life� written by Brooklynite Will Eno has generated so much critical blather that I couldn�t wait to see it. When it played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer, a critic at the Guardian (UK) wrote that its impact was so great �that you don�t realize it has cut you deep until you feel the warm seep of bloody despair.� Charles Isherwood, heretofore considered by me to be the only sane regular drama critic at the New York Times, complained that �Mr. Eno�s voice is so jaggedly quirky, crisp and hypnotic that it seems to have co-opted my own. Forgive the hysteria.�

    Hysteria is what the ecstatic Times� review seems to have created at the box-office. Not only is the entire run mostly sold out but, on the night I saw it, there were tens of would-be theatergoers literally begging to get on line for returns.

    Here�s what this hullabaloo is all about. Actor James Urbaniak�a very good Everyman look-alike in schlumpy suit and tie and nerdy glasses�greets the audience as a voice coming out of the dark but soon reveals himself to meditate upon (in no particular order): life, the boy in the heart of a man, his dead dog, a girl that got away, a failed magic trick, snotty handkerchiefs, the memory of wet dreams. In between takes, he throws in some dirty words and comments on the audience�s dress and even descends among its members threatening to select someone to participate in the revelries on stage. It�s all very fragmented and might be acceptable as a stand-up act but there�s nothing spontaneous about it. Even the pauses (and there are some long ones) are programmed. This suspicion was confirmed for me by reading a review in which the critic wondered if the audience member who ostentatiously walked out after about ten minutes of the show was part of it. Answer: she was. The same thing happened the night I saw it.

    I�m all for new theatrical forms. In his rapturous evaluation of this drivel, Isherwood calls Eno �a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.� Beckett wrote plays full of mysterious characters that can be difficult to comprehend at first glance. Eno has thrown a bunch of wise-ass observations up against a wall to see what sticks. The difference is all in the substance. Also in the level of stagecraft, which in Beckett is totally original and in this show is totally banal.

    A couple of members of the audience the night I saw it were laughing themselves silly at practically every line. The rest seemed to be trying to figure out why they were here or glancing at their watches.

    Upon reflection, I think that the headline on Howard Kissel�s review in the Daily News got it exactly right: ��Pain� Stems from Nothing Much� So true.

    PS After years of play-going, I�ll let you in on one of Polly�s rules of theatre: If you don�t understand the title, you probably won�t understand the play.

    Polly Wittenberg