For the second instalment of theatre for film, Red Line Productions presents Will Eno’s meta, wandering monologue piece Thom Pain (Based on Nothing). Surrounded by cameras, Thom scatters himself across the stage, bouncing around the cranium of the black box Old Fitz Theatre like an illusive riddle.
Thom (Toby Schmitz) stands, a shell of a man, hidden in the dark. Charged with the task of entertaining an audience, he decides to tell a story and entreats us, “Trust me, this happened and happened like this.” From a tale about a little boy who endures many misfortunes, Thom’s story wanders, becomes another story about himself and a woman before circling back to the little boy now grown. With every line of Thom’s stories, though, he doubles back and rewrites it or muses about what might’ve happened but didn’t. Schmitz’s delivery is rambling, tripping over itself and getting misdirected as though Schmitz was making it all up as he went along. At times the performance leans towards hysterical but more often it’s impulsive, uncomfortably unpredictable.
Design by Trent Suidgeest sets Thom in the centre of an empty black box, with cameras placed to mimic a theatre in the round. Schmitz speaks into the cameras intimately, confidingly, but directs the more meta-theatrical audience participation to the banks of empty seats. Eno’s Pulitzer-nominated script is a meditation on promise and fear; how the two feelings overlap or how one could lead on to the other. Thom in his monologue is both directly and indirectly grappling with his fear about failing to fulfil the promise he showed in childhood, perhaps concluding that he already has. And, ultimately, what does it mean to be “promising”?
The performance has the appearance of a man laying himself bare, revealing his soul’s vulnerability for an audience. Even the technical design where Schmitz’s image becomes semi-transparent and overplayed upon itself indicates a desire to be seen as completely open. But the irony of Eno’s dense, clever, and self-referential script is it’s opacity. It constructs a character tied into knots by self-explanation and convoluted justification for misunderstanding and miscommunication. In an attempt at absolute clarity that involves unravelling even the possibilities of a story, Thom loses the thread of himself.
Fans of Schmitz’s charisma and his ability to make any line sound like a riff will appreciate the philosophical rabbit holes of Thom Pain. And, while the way the character’s need for attention absolutely pores out of him, the repulsion is part of the aesthetic appeal; the sticky muck of fear often left untouched deep within the soul.
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) is being streamed by Red Line Productions from June 29th – July 4th. For more information and to purchase a ticket as a donation, please visit Red Line Productions’s website.
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