I met a rather strange fellow Friday night by the name of Thom Pain. He was a slightly tall, rather gaunt man and wearing a dark suit with a white shirt and a black tie, his dark hair, flecked with gray, oiled back on his head, the frames of his eyeglasses thick and black.
It seemed he thought he was there to give me and the others gathered around me a lecture, to teach us a lesson of some sort--one I'm not sure quite came across.
He sought to maintain an air of mystery, introducing himself in a pitch black room, showing his face only briefly by matchlight as he lit his cigarette, but he revealed more and more the longer he spoke.
Scott Heberling was the uneasy, distracted, sarcastic man in the Theatre Club's production of Will Eno's one-man wonder, Thom Pain (Based on Nothing).
The New York Times called Eno "a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation," and his writing, with its dark wit, careless humor and fearless depth, is as timeless as it is timely.
Thom Pain, as described by Eno, is trying. He is a trying man. He's trying to make some sense of his life, but he keeps getting distracted. Getting distracted...or avoiding the task he's set for himself.
He begins with a story. Sort of. He asks us to imagine a cowboy suit clad little boy trying to make his way into the world with a dog he loves more than anything. One tragic day, his beloved companion is electrocuted while drinking from a puddle in the street and dies. "The boy lived through this," Thom Pain assures us.
Then he asks, "When did your childhood end? How badly did you get hurt?"
He alternates the story of the little boy with memories of a former love--quite possibly the only woman Thom Pain ever loved. And both of these experiences, both of these losses, have been devastating to the man. So now, he stands before us, trying to make sense of it all. Telling his story, not to teach us any life lessons, but to figure out what happened to his life.
Meanwhile, he fidgets, meandering around the real story?the truth. He picks out people in the audience to take some of the attention--attention he's solicited--off of himself and to point a finger at another person.
He's a little indifferent to his own message. He feels that what he has to say to us is important--it must be or he wouldn't be standing there and we all wouldn't be staring at him blankly--but he's not sure we, his audience, care enough to hear it. He's self-deprecating but a little pompous at the same time. He's a poor professor giving a misguided lecture or a well-meaning relative who's really, really bad at advice.
But, he is on to something.
In between the senseless jokes, the stuttering and stammering, the avoidance, he reveals moments of pure truth. And the story, the story about the little boy who lost his dog and the love he'll never get back, they are real, and they reveal something about Thom and about ourselves that makes everything else sort of make sense, too.
"What if you only had a day to live," Thom asks us. "That's easy. You'd be wild and free, you'd be reckless. What if you only had 40 years?
"If you're like me, and no offense, you probably are, you'd do nothing."
Eno's writing is really phenomenal. It's fast-paced, but if you're paying attention, there are these moments that make you stop breathing for a minute. Then, at the end, you realize it's all these moments that filled the last hour that really make you go, "Wow." This play was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, after all.
Heberling is perfect as Thom Pain, too. Under Geore Romero's direction, he's one of the most believable characters I've met in a long time. You may not like Thom Pain when you meet him, but you'll sure learn something.
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) continues this Thurs., Fri. and Sat., November 8-10, at 8pm in the Charles E. Norman Theater of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St. Tickets are $10, and you can reserve them by calling 596-7111 or visiting www.tulsapac.com. To get to know the man himself, visit www.myspace.com/thompaintulsa.
Another Man Trying
Also opening this weekend is Heller Theatre's performance of Steven Dietz's Rocket Man.
Heller performed Dietz's Inventing Van Gogh last season, which, in my opinion, was the theatre's best show of that season. So I'm looking forward to seeing another Dietz work. Dietz has a unique and uncanny way of manipulating time and space in his plays to emphasize the characters'--and the audience's--experience.
In Rocket Man, Donny is a divorced man determined to give himself a second chance on life. He is having a garage sale and everything he owns is up for bids.
In order to gain the second chance he so desperately wants, he must reexamine and investigate what went wrong, and that means involving his ex-wife and teenage daughter.
In the first act, time moves forward, as it should. In the second act, though, time moves backward, giving every occasion a new perspective. And our small clan of characters is greeted by some very interesting guests.
Rocket Man opens this Thurs., Nov. 8 at 8pm and runs through Nov. 10, as well as Nov. 15-18. Nov. 18's performance begins at 2pm. Tickets to the show are $8 and can be purchased at Heller, 5328 S. Wheeling. Make reservations, which are strongly encouraged, by calling 746-5065. I'm seeing the show Thursday, so look for a review next week.
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