Thom Pain (based on nothing) at Theater Wit: Theater review

Lance Baker returns to Will Eno's distinctive, dyspeptic solo piece.
 (Photograph: Johnny Knight)
1/3
Photograph: Johnny KnightLance Baker in Thom Pain (based on nothing) at Theater Wit
 (Photograph: Johnny Knight)
2/3
Photograph: Johnny KnightLance Baker in Thom Pain (based on nothing) at Theater Wit
 (Photograph: Johnny Knight)
3/3
Photograph: Johnny KnightLance Baker in Thom Pain (based on nothing) at Theater Wit
By Kris Vire |
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Playwright Will Eno's singular voice was first heard by much of the theatergoing world in this distinctive monologue, which debuted in London in 2004, New York in 2005 and in Chicago in 2007, in a Theater Wit production at the now-defunct Viaduct Theatre. That production's star and director, Lance Baker and Jeremy Wechsler, respectively, have reunited for an encore staging at Theater Wit's own space, and Baker's take on Eno's winding tale of innocence lost and ambivalence found is a sight to see.

Eno's idiosyncratic way with wordplay, which often manifests itself in a rambling deconstruction and inversion of idioms and clichés, along with his affinity for the "nothing" of our lives, make his style both unique and divisive. While Thom Pain became a Pulitzer finalist and he's gained a following with several critics (including myself), some theatergoers find Eno decidedly not to their taste. (At a performance of a new Eno play I attended a few months back, at Actors Theatre of Louisville's Humana Festival of New Plays, a gentleman in front of me stood up at intermission and loudly declared "This is shit!" to everyone in earshot.)

But I think many who are tripped up by Eno's formal tics are missing the careful blend of cutting and compassionate that laces his vision of life's mundane tragedies. And Baker makes a terrific delivery system for this piece of stand-up dramedy, an actor who's particularly adept with solo work, as he's shown over the years in pieces like Adam Rapp's Nocturne, David Sedaris's The Santaland Diaries and Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs. His Thom Pain struts the bare stage with well-honed intensity and painstaking attention to pushing back against the temptation toward aloofness—sometimes bemused, sometimes sinister but never indifferent in his recounting of a sad boy's brush with tragedy and a sad man's brush with human connection.

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