Reviewing the one-man show Thom Pain (based on nothing) for The New York Times, Charles Isherwood called playwright Will Eno “a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.” Mitchell Thomas, who will give the work’s Santa Barbara–area premiere over the next two weekends, appreciates the comparison.
“There’s a quickness and agility to the comedy that is absolutely in the world of Beckett,” he said. “It moves in a lot of different directions really quickly. One moment it’s dead serious. The next moment it’s farcical. The next moment it’s heartbreaking.
“What they have in common is we’re laughing as we’re staring into the void. Great playwrights can entertain us at the same time we’re looking at the difficult questions of what it means to be alive, and what loneliness and isolation feel like.”
Eno’s edgy monologue is the latest collaboration between Thomas, a Westmont College theater professor, and director Maurice Lord — both recent recipients of Indy Theater Awards. They’ll premiere the production this Friday-Saturday, June 20-21, at the McDermott-Crockett & Associates Mortuary, which also served as the unlikely but emotionally resonant site of Lord’s previous projects Endgame and The Designated Mourner. It will then move to the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, where Thomas will perform it on Thursday, June 26 and Sunday, June 29.
To again quote Isherwood, the play “nearly defies description,” but it’s basically a confessional monologue in which the title character talks about his life of isolation, an existence he describes as miserable but also affirms as worthwhile.
“He tells a number of stories from his childhood and youth — incidents that were formative and define who he is,” Thomas said. “They point to what he considers his inability to have those things that he wants, things every person should have. He gets in his own way again and again. He’s aware that he’s doing it, but he can’t stop.
“It’s about all of our lives,” he added. “We’re struggling as a society, as a culture, to connect. We have more and more tools [for communication], but more and more people are feeling isolated and alone. Maybe we don’t do it as frequently as he does, but all of us ask the same questions Thom asks and struggle with the same issues.”
The show first captured people’s attention at the 2004 Edinburgh Festival and went on to long runs in London and New York. Eno has since gone on to write the four-character play The Realistic Joneses, which is currently on Broadway with a stellar cast including Toni Collette and Michael C. Hall.
While Thomas has been considering Thom Pain for some years, he noted that the work has taken on new resonance after the recent tragedy in Isla Vista, which was perpetuated by a young man whose sense of isolation mimics Thom’s in many ways.
With that in mind, he decided to donate a portion of the proceeds to the AHA! program, which teaches teens techniques to develop emotional intelligence. “That organization,” he noted, “is all about connection and expression and emotional healing.”
As is gathering together to listen to an insightful man articulate common feelings that few of us have the courage to acknowledge.
For tickets, show times, and info about Thom Pain (based on nothing), visit genesiswest.org.