The title of the show at the DR2 Theatre is a bit misleading: Thom Pain (based on nothing) isn't really based on nothing. It just doesn't advertise its source of inspiration as overtly as many of the other one-person shows seen recently on New York's stages. In fact, compared to many of them, this new play by Will Eno is relatively packed with content. And if you're not always positive exactly what that content is, well, that's part of the fun.
And there's a lot of fun to be had at this surreal send-up of solo-show self-indulgence, though the title character, played by the acerbically witty James Urbaniak, does little more than deliver a stream-of-consciousness rant about the disappointments and uncertainties of life and love. The show is directed with acute comic precision by Hal Brooks, and is executed so artfully with regards to its conceptless concept that you might at times feel that Thom's seemingly random, disconnected ramblings will never come together.
When they finally do near the end of the 70-minute show, it proves a refreshing moment of quiet beauty in an otherwise loud, abrasive package. Thom's coming to terms with his personal loss of love and the fragility of life in general helps the pieces of his puzzle come together; he finally seems like a complete man, rather than just an anonymous figure who had it all, lost it, and then eventually lost it altogether. But his finding hope within his despair gives him (and us) something to hold onto and allows a few optimistic streaks to color the absurdist evening.
Reaching that point, however, won't be easy for everyone, and the show may occasionally be too gimmicky for its own good. While there's an endearing quality to Thom's picking up and immediately abandoning conversation topics, or establishing, forgetting about, and then re-exploring threads of connectivity between seemingly independent anecdotes or tirades, not everything is so cleverly handled. One strained gag finds Thom berating a planted audience member who walks out; in another, Thom pulls an audience member up onstage and promptly forgets about him. It's during moments like these that the show's strange sense of humor almost feels like too much of a good thing.
But for the most part the show develops and then slowly builds on these comic ideas, allowing and encouraging you to expect the unexpected. Eno's intensely clever and profound writing helps a great deal, as does the likeably nerdy and rough-edged persona Urbaniak has established for Thom; he's the kind of eccentric you might like spending an hour or so with, if not for the same reasons he might like spending time with you. Production values are minimal - lighting designer Mark Barton has provided a very basic lighting plot, "scenic consultant" David Korins has provided a bare-bones, black-curtain set, and no costume designer is credited with Thom's run-of-the-mill dark suit.
But Urbaniak, Eno, and Brooks have done such superb work that the show nonetheless feels like a full evening. And if, at the end of it, you're not able to easily describe or interpret what's transpired, that's part of the point: Self-understanding, particularly in the face of loss or tragedy, doesn't come easy. But if the show at first tastes like the theatrical equivalent of junk food, it increases in richness and color the longer it marinates in your own perceptions and personal experiences.
That underscores the show's point that great ideas - and life-changing events - can appear when unannounced, though even after watching the show, I'm hesitant to say they come from nothing. The show's title aside, there's far too much substance here for that to really be the case.
Thom Pain (based on nothing)