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Review: Thom Pain (based on nothing)

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3 stars

NoExit Performance, Inc.; Wheeler Arts Center; directed by Michael Hosp; through May 20.

This one-man show, written by Will Eno (Tragedy: a tragedy), premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2004 and by 2005 was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist with a New York run. NoExit’s new production of Thom Pain (based on nothing) took me further back, to the nineties when “Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts” video vignettes ran regularly on Saturday Night Live.

Like Handey, this play’s titled character describes bizarre and grim scenarios as if they are bar-stool jokes or folksy tales to pass along. I adore the very dark humor of “Deep Thoughts” in small doses and like it here and there in Pain. However, this show’s daunting task is to build character and story over an hour of deadpan delivery and purposefully awkward audience interactions. Joshua Carroll holds his own as the disdainful and sometimes crude narrator, describing first, a boy watching his dog die by electrocution and next, the same boy being attacked by bees.

Last Friday’s small audience seemed game for the man’s wit, scorn and occasional come-ons, but I’m not sure how Pain’s last-half turnabout played. As he becomes teary and despondent, we realize that Thom’s “pain” is the kind that can screw up childhood and later life. For me, the outward change was unnecessary. Better to let that pain seep through Pain’s sarcasm, the way it seeps through his life.

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