Will Eno Probes One Man’s Thoughts & Feelings
by Patricia L. Morin
Will Eno’s “Thom Pain (based on nothing),” live-streamed from the Bus Barn Theater by Los Altos Stage Company, attempts to piece together an obscure jigsaw puzzle of human thoughts and feelings through the events of one agonized man’s life.
As Thom Pain, Michael Champlin steps onto a pitch-black stage, dressed like a funeral director, grabbing our attention. “How wonderful to see you all,” he announces as he ambles toward his imagined audience.
The stage is small with a solemn feel, and a backdrop of blood-red floor-to-ceiling curtains. The dim lighting and a small side table with water pitcher and glass leave little room for Pain to wander. Under the creative Zoom direction of Gary Landis, without a live audience, or laughter or respondents, Champlin shines.
As the anguished Pain, Champlin engages us with a story about a little boy, a cowboy without boots. The child loves and loses his dog—a simple story that touches our heart. He gives the boy a name, but then takes it back. Pain’s childhood angst, his fear of love and loving, become the most vivid and basic part of his character.
He wraps himself and us in many abstractions, suppositions, and self-doubts—returning always to the hurt boy, his lost love, and the abuses of life.
Champlin slyly slips into parts of Pain, stiffing up in tense moments, relaxed and free as his mind wanders, only to suddenly stop. He directs intense stares at us, coming close to the camera, asking rhetorical questions, like: “When did your childhood end? How badly did you get hurt? Isn’t it wonderful how we never recover?” Pain is rich in double meanings that leave us questioning ourselves, then suppressing the urge to yell out an answer.
Pain’s unexpected musings serve up powerful strands of philosophy and beautifully articulated ideas. Both expose his doubts about any kind of self-fulfillment: “Words came and went, disappearing like the things they stood for.”
We smile, then frown, realizing, at times, his deep-seated hostility, as he claims, “The mind is a monster!” Yet, there is humor in his rigid, self-denying approaches. “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” plays with the audience, making us smile.
Once, he promises a raffle, and within a few minutes, we realize that people must be withdrawing their tickets. He laughs and admits that there is no raffle, tricking us like he was tricked. He muses, “Why would a boy read the dictionary like a novel, and skip ahead to see what happens?”
But Eno’s message, inconsistent as life, touches our vulnerabilities. Even such a tortured soul as “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” can stir our doubts, our fears, and unanswered questions.
Because the Zoom format excludes the seductive reactions of an audience, sometimes I found myself wandering from the words. At other times, he pulls me to the edge of my seat.
Although the jigsaw puzzle is not completed, I fully enjoy Eno’s creative approach to questioning our feelings and experiences. Champlin endows Pains sympathetic events with flourishes of our “incredibly rich interiors.”
“Thom Pain (based on nothing)” by Will Eno, directed by Gary Landis—Streaming at: Los Altos Stage Company – till March 7, 2021.
Cast: Michael Champlin (Thom Pain)