Inside this garage, the walls seem very close and the available space very small. But it’s not the stuff here that invades my space, nor is it the other people trapped here with me. It’s the man in front of me. His name is Thom Pain and he is angry.
When Josh Randall announced he was performing an immersive production of Will Eno’s Pulitzer Prize finalist play, Thom Pain (based on nothing,) I was intrigued. Randall is, after all, the creator of the classic New York immersive-horror production Blackout. Now he was choosing to do a intimate, one-man production with himself as the star. I had to see the outcome for myself.
I am so glad I did so, for I have not been able to stop thinking about the production. Randall has created an experience with this production that made me uncomfortable, worried, disconnected and uncertain. And I loved every minute of it.
Thom Pain (based on nothing) offers audiences a man who is desperately obsessed with connection. He wants to bridge the gap between himself and someone else. Anyone else. And yet, his approach shows us he is either incapable or actively resisting the very connections he wishes to make.
Randall takes that play and eradicates the distance between the main character and the audience. We now find this angry, hopeless man in an equally angry garage-turned-studio apartment that’s barely big enough for him alone. Yet now we are also there, a dozen of us at once. It’s practically impossible for him to fail to connect when we are all right there, two feet from his rapid-fire questions.
It’s a fascinating choice because it places the audience in a confused state. In the performance I saw, audience members were constantly uncertain whether they should (or even could) answer questions directed at them. Sometimes they tried. More often they started to answer and then stopped themselves. They kept trying to communicate and failing to do so.
That is the beauty of this production. Randall has taken a show about the desire and failure to gain meaning through communication and literally shoved it in our faces. He transfers the pain, confusion and uncertainty of the main character into our own heads as well. And the more uncomfortable we become, the harder it is to keep trying to listen and to understand the poor soul in front of us. Such a great, great choice.
Josh Randall’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) expertly places a mirror to the off-kilter times we are experiencing. He deftly slips on the skin of a broken, hopeless man in a performance that kept me equally riveted and squeamish. His portrayal of someone lost, angry and hopeless is like the wound in our society’s side, forever oozing blood. It remains one of the best times I have had feeling terrible.
Thom Pain (based on nothing) has one more weekend of shows, March 24-27. More information about the show can be found here.