Arts Live Slogging from Thom Pain
posted by October 14 at 11:48 AMon
Last night I was supposed to live-Slog from the light booth at the Rep while watching Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno. It’s a solo show about a heart-broken smart aleck who hates his audience (according to Charles Isherwood of the NYT, “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation”—which isn’t even remotely true), played by Todd Jefferson Moore.
But there were problems. Everyone at the Rep was very nice, but my laptop kept losing the signal. Then there were some issues with getting onto Slog. So I kept tying notes but scrapped the posting.
This wasn’t the best play for this experiment: A one-act, one-man monologue with angst and wordplay and literary references requires more attention than I can give while tying and overhearing conversations in the tech booth and screwing around with the wireless connection. The Ring Cycle would be a better candidate—something long, sweeping, an endurance contest that you can check in and out of, with quirky audience behavior and a sense of exclusivity that people without the time, money, or interest to attend might want to window on.
Anyway. The notes (all 1,000 words of ‘em!) follow the jump. Representative passages:
This was the Rep’s idea, I should mention. It seems a bit odd—theater artists (hell, all artists are forever complaining that their critics are thoughtless, reactionary, that they see a show and run home and slam-bang out a review so they can get back to drinking and screwing and playing video games and other base pleasures. But here I am, up in the light booth, fingers stretched, knuckles cracked, all set to react.
A brief flash of light, then lights up—Thom man in his black suit, black tie, no socks. He [Moore] is in his 50s, which seems weird, having read the script, which is a monologue about someone who seemed to be an angry young man. Then again, from back here, the house is full of grey and white heads. By comparison, Moore is an angry young man.
Will Eno didn’t write this play. He recited it in front of his bathroom mirror, tape recorder in hand, stripping himself with whiskey like paint thinner, letting his deeply entrenched banality shine like a beacon—and that’s not actually a criticism.
I'm in the light and sound booth with a cheerful young man named Greg, ready to live-Slog my experience at Thom Pain (based on nothing).
This was the Rep's idea, I should mention. It seems a bit odd—theater artists (hell, all artists are forever complaining that their critics are thoughtless, reactionary, that they see a thing and run home and slam-bang out a review so they can get back to drinking and fucking and playing video games, and other base pleasures instead of mulling and thinking and walking in the rain and weeping and doing all those precious things that precious artists do when they're creating.
But here I am, up in a light booth with a computer and a cup of coffee and a glass of whiskey, fingers stretched, knuckles cracked, all set to react.
Which is to say—listen and think of things worth writing and then writing them all at the same time.
A few vital stats before we get started: the play is Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno. It is a solo show about a heart-broken smart aleck who hates his audience (I'm sorry: "angular Beckettian persona"), played by Todd Jefferson Moore.
The booth people are chuckling about something someone in the audience did. I missed it. I'm going to have to start paying attention.
Thom (Moore) begins in the dark: He gives a false definition of fear, then "let's get started. Do you like magic? I don't. But enough about me."
A brief flash of light, then lights up—Thom man in his black suit, black tie, no socks. He [Moore] is in his 50s, which seems weird, having read the script, which is a monologue about someone who seemed to be an angry young man.
Then again, from back here, the house is full of grey and white heads. By comparison, Moore is an angry young man. He says "cunt." He apologizes. He isn't wearing socks.
He is hostile in word, but indifferent in manner.
(Greg is also tapping away at a keyboard, next to me.)
He asks the audience: "Does it scare you? Being face to face with the modern mind? It should."
But it isn't. He isn't. He's just a guy, with no socks. Someone in the front row is leaving.
Overheard in the booth, while Greg talks on his headset to (I think) the stage manager: "I like the jokes, I like this show."
One of the assistants in the booth just came in and asked if I would like another whiskey. I said no. But I am grateful for the attention.
Thom: "Where was I? I was thinking about your life—it's very distracting."
He is on a bare set, with a bare bulb in a metal cage. Black wall behind the actor in a black suit. He gives the impression of free-association. He talks about himself, but always in the third person: "Imagine a child, with a cowboy suit..." that kind of thing. Always in the third person—gives it a Kafka feel, the man can relate his own experiences only by treating them as the fictionalized experiences of another, an alien. Less Kafka than Freud, I guess, learning to thinking of the insides of yourself as foreign. What a pernicious development for "the modern mind." I guess that's a little scary after all.
Thom talks about watching his dog get electrocuted as a child, in a puddle with, I think, a power line draped across it. I can't remember exactly. He talks about... himself. Being a boy, kicking a beehive.
Overhead in the booth: "It's tough because my parents are in Kirkland and if we pick the baby up from their house, it's another hour and a half... If she sleeps solid through the night, she's amazing, she's been sleeping through the night for six weeks. We've had eight to ten solid hours per night." They're chatty in here.
Thom: "I have an extremely rich interior life."
[Long pause. Super-long, maybe a full minute or two. Then he opens his eyes, looks at the crowd miserably.]
In the booth: "Wow. Wow. He punishes."
Thom is like a man left to his own devices, one who once was a banal man—that is to say, a man full of bitterness and joy and keeping it all beneath the surface, being personable and social, swimming through his life. Then something happened—ostensibly his heart was broken—and he became extraordinary because he lost his shell, the armor that was supposed to guard his banality from the eyes of the world.
Thom: "I am the kind of man you don't hear from for a long time and then BANG!, you don't hear from me again."
Wait. Let me back up. An allegory—imagine a turtle. The meat of the turtle is the secret banality that lives inside all of us, but which we hide from the world. The shell of the turtle is the faux extraordinariness we show to the world, pretending that the soft, pasty banality inside doesn't exist.
Thom: ""I'm disgusted with myself so that makes me angry, makes me lash out... Or lash in."
All of us, wandering around, wearing shells of faux-extraordinariness, all the same, so in our universal faux-extraordinariness, we become banal. Then, one turtle's shell is ripped off. Maybe he ripped it off. Maybe it was ripped off for him. Maybe there someone half ripped it off and the hanging remnants were so painful, he ripped the rest off himself, like a torn fingernail, except covering your entire body. And in the ripping-off, he reveals his soft, fleshy banality. The ordinariness of his thoughts, exposed to the world, become his claim to uniqueness. Nobody wants to be banal but he doesn't care anymore. He's done. He's desperate. And then, in that exposure, he becomes extraordinary.
Thom, bitter about his heartbreak, in a rare moment of fellow-feeling with his audience: ""May every animal find its animal. Find its fellow animal."
He is like a man letting himself talk to himself in a bathroom mirror for hours and hours after a party, pretending he has an audience.
That's it. Will Eno didn't write this play. He recited it in front of his bathroom mirror, tape recorder in hand, stripping himself with whiskey like paint thinner, letting his deeply entrenched banality shine like a beacon—and that's not actually a criticism.
Thom: "I don't like magic. I don't like it. And I'm no good at it. But I do do a little disappearing act."
Picked a volunteer from the audience. That man was young—jeans, t-shirt, suit jacket, and no shoes. He looked embarrassedly at his own feet, curled his toes, and stood upstage while Moore stood down, missing his Other Animal, thinking about her ankle, her lips, her neck.
He rants, about lost boyhood, his decaying body, asks: "What was I afraid of?' Greg whispers, over the headset: "Shoes."
"Be yourself," Thom says.