Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thom Pane (based on nothing)

‘NOTHING’ is something at DOBAMA

During the day on Friday, I spent a class period trying to explain the workings of the human mind to my Psychology class. I recounted that the brain is the product of both heredity and environment. I shared that it often goes off on tangents for no presently identified reason. I also shared that sometimes, based on the situation and our mood and motivation, disorganization of ideas, emotional breakdowns, and the resulting flow of thoughts can reveal a great deal about a person.

Oh how I wish my students had been able to share with me the opening night performance of Dobama Theatre’s ‘THOM PAIN (based on nothing)’. My “brilliant” lecture actually came to life through the talented one-man performance of Scott Plate as Thom Pain.

Will Eno’s ‘THOM PAIN (based on nothing)’ was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. It has been called funny, edgy, honest, engaging and raw.

It can’t be defined by traditional terms used for a theatrical script—drama, comedy, tragedy or farce. It defies description. What it is, is a look at life, the terror of life, the greatness of mortality, and the fragility and realities of existence. It is an odd and intoxicating affirmation of the value of being alive, with an underbelly probing into the uselessness and sometimes joy of being alive. It has the qualities of a Sartre and Camus existential probing into why one lives. It screams, “Why do we exist?”

The story is told with many stops and starts, pauses and digressions. The language is sometimes gross and often poetic. An ill-fated love affair is explained away with, “I disappeared in her and she, wondering where I went, left.” The language often contradicts itself. The character is so inconsistent that we never know whether we should believe anything he says.

Sound weird? It is. It’s probably one of the oddest plays you’ll ever see. For some it will be exciting, for others off-putting.

Someone actually got up about ten minutes into the play and walked out. He crossed right through the acting area to get into the cold night air. Was he a plant meant to highlight the nature of the production? When the man departed, Plate seemed confused. After a momentary pause, he launched into an “ad libbed” speech that tied the exit to his flow of thought and then used the device throughout the rest of the production to bridge ideas together. The same thing happened later when he “spontaneously” brought an audience member on stage and used him as a prop for yet another rambling tale.

I should have figured that this was going to be one of “those” evenings when, at the start of the show, Plate started to talk to the audience while he was standing in the dark. Was there a blown light cue by the techie in charge of illumination? The lights suddenly flashed on as the actor was telling us about the dark. The contradictions were startling.

Even the ending was not traditional. At one point, mid-sentence, Plate just left the stage and didn’t return. The audience sat, quietly, waiting to figure out whether we were in intermission, the actor had forgotten his lines and panicked, or the whole experience was really over. There was no closing curtain, no sudden rise in lighting level to signal, “it’s over.” Someone finally got up and left. Others followed. Yes, our experience was over.

Plate is marvelous! His confusion is real. The tears he sheds, the bodily shakes, the confused look in his eyes, the underplayed manic expressiveness on his face are real. Plate’s pain and Pain are real!

The show was directed by Joel Hammer, but who knows what his role was. Is this Plate’s conception or Hammer’s creation? It’s all part of those questions about the play that will never be answered.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘THOM PAIN (based on nothing)’ is a 70-minute, no intermission or late seating, compelling piece of theatre. Is it for everyone? No. If you like escapist comedy or light musicals this is not for you. But, if you want to think, and see a marvelous performance, get down to Shaker Square and have a meaningful, if thought confusing experience.