THOM PAIN (based on nothing)
by Will Eno
Western Theatre Conspiracy
A PuSh Festival Satellite Show
January 11-15, 2006
Oh man, if you think you’re having a bad day, try standing in Thom Pain’s shoes for a while.
He’s Eeyore with hemorrhoids, Woody Allan on downers, Job’s lovechild with Dr. Phil.
Created by New Yorker Will Eno and played with bilious brilliance by Scott Bellis in Richard Wolfe’s Western Theatre Conspiracy production, the guy is bad news in a bad suit, a prophet of disillusion, the sultan of self-loathing. And that’s when he’s in his better moods.
Like a demented talk-show host he stalks the bare stage, insulting and assaulting the audience, raking us with rapid-fire anecdotes about his own miserable, misbegotten life and reminding us that we share his condition, the human condition: to be unhappy and disappointed, tormented by consciousness, suffering injury and pain. Life’s a bitch and then you die.
The rants are punctuated by long pauses during which Pain/Bellis locks eyes with us, a characteristic aggressive, disgusted, bewildered look on his face, lower lip quivering in anticipation of the complete breakdown he’ll experience by the end, daring us to giggle—daring us to think.
Picture this, he tells us. “Picture whatever you want—you’re free.” But then he taunts us about our assumptions of freedom: “Don’t imagine a pink elephant.” His role is the gadfly, to activate our imaginations and help us see the truth. Like the ironic evil twin of his namesake, American Revolutionary theorist Tom Paine, author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man, Thom Pain forces us to see how rarely we act in our own best interests: “What if you only had 40 years to live, what would you do? If you’re like me, and you probably are, you probably wouldn’t do anything.”
But then why would you, given the pointlessness of “this dead horse of a life we beat.”
Besides riffing on his own misery and ours, Thom keeps picking up the threads of two rambling stories. One concerns a boy with a tormented childhood who grows up to be a man who paints bathrooms at the morgue and sleeps in his own vomit. The other is the story of two lovers who at least manage to connect: “One day we wake up to cold sores together.” The dyspeptic moral: love cankers all.
Despite the bleak intelligence of Eno’s writing and Bellis’ remarkable performance, I was ready to rebel at about the 40 minute mark of this 70 minute monologue. I grew up in New York. I’m familiar with this kind of dark-side philosophy that insists that life is really shitty only we’re just too stupid to realize it. A little of this goes a long way. Besides, I’m a citizen of Lotus Land now. I’m happy. I’m free. Picture this: don’t imagine Stephen Harper as Prime Minister.