Off-Broadway Review: “Thom Pain (based on nothing)”

Thom Pain WP.jpg

David Roberts

  • Chief New York Critic

  • Outer Critics Circle/Drama Desk Member

In this revival of “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage, Will Eno steps over, under, and in between the resting places – and the writing desks – of the literary canon’s most prominent surrealist writers of the past and present. Eno seems to stop there to chat, listen, tremble (who wouldn’t), and laugh with these greats, echoes of whom cascade across the stage in a stunning performance by Michael C. Hall.

As Mr. Hall plumbs the depths of his character Thom Pain’s subconscious mind in a brilliantly dissociative narrative about civilization and its discontents (Sigmund Freud), a series of random noises and the occasional bit of fog reveal what might be the phantasmas and whispers of James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Dorothea Tanning, Samuel Beckett, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Jorge Luis Borges, and scores of others. Mr. Hall’s Thom channels these voices as he narrates – in a fashion – two stories drenched in ethos, pathos, and logos.

Both stories are autobiographical: one chronicling Thom Pain’s horrific childhood; the other Pain’s attempts at finding a meaningful connection with a woman. The details of these narratives are not shared in a linear fashion. Bits of each intertwine with offers of raffles, perambulations through the audience, and threats of eliciting audience participation. Just as the stage has been “deconstructed” by set designer Amy Rubin, Michael C. Hall surgically deconstructs Thom Pain’s life of seeming desperation and abuse with charismatic and winsome charm that alternately embraces then shuns the members of the audience.

Director Oliver Butler allows Mr. Hall to explore every corner of the massive bare Irene Diamond Stage. Mr. Hall wanders around, disappears from, sits upon, “grooms,” and wrestles with the space just as one would explore the depth of one’s unconscious and subconscious minds. Will Eno, however, does not leave his character in the mire of humanity’s vicissitudes. Michael C. Hall pulls a chair from a storage closet, invites an audience member onto the stage, stands that member next to the chair, invites him to close his eyes, then wanders off like some J. Alfred Prufrock rehearsing “a hundred indecisions/And a hundred visions and revisions” of Thom Pain’s story.

Anita Yavich’s costume design, Jen Schriever’s lighting design, and Lee Kinney’s sound design contribute to the surreal setting of “Thom Pain (based on nothing) and counterpoint well with Will Eno’s script.

Ultimately, like “Angels in America’s” Prior Walter, Thom Pain chooses life. He urges his onstage guest and his audience to disavow disappearance and not to acquiesce to life’s fragile trove of failed dramatic arcs, stories, or lapses of moral centering. Though touted as “based on nothing,” Thom Pain’s story is one of hopefulness and surcease from suffering. The gathered “ghosts” might approve having struggled with the existential question “Do I dare” (T. S. Eliot) and made a difference in our ability to survive.



“Thom Pain (based on nothing)” stars Michael C. Hall. The creative team includes Amy Rubin (Scenic Design), Anita Yavich (Costume Design), Jen Schriever (Lighting Design), Lee Kinney (Sound Design). Charles M. Turner III is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Caparelliotis Casting.

“Thom Pain (based on nothing)” plays at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues) through Sunday December 9, 2018. To purchase tickets for all Signature productions, call Ticket Services at 212-244-7529 (Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.) or visit Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Michael C. Hall in “Thom Pain (based on nothing).” Credit: Joan Marcus.