THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING) by Will Eno, directed by Jennifer Tarver. At the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman). To December 17. $27-$32, Sun pwyc-$17. 416-531-1827. See Continuing, page 96. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
In the Toronto premiere of thom Pain , the unnerving title character ( Tom McCamus ) demands, "Are you afraid to be face-to-face with a modern mind?" If your answer is no, Thom Pain is for you.
This challenging, slightly discomfiting one-man show has all the pessimistic, meta-narrative trappings of a Modernist novel. Add a big dose of existential angst and fear, plus a script rife with cringeworthy puns, and the sum of the parts seems to foretell a pretentious disaster. Yet Thom Pain is anything but painful.
Pain is fraught with artfully sketched contradictions that make him a compelling character to watch for an hour. Tender and antagonistic, poetic and base, he's a portal into a beautiful loser's mind.
At the start, embittered by a failed love affair, he cuts a hostile figure, promising magic tricks that never materialize and hitting all the predictable notes of existential fatalism. But while the neurotic anti-hero harasses the audience at regular intervals, he also tells the story of a boy (himself) who grows into a man.
McCamus draws the audience into Pain's distracted emotional and intellectual state with the barest suggestion of a plot. Though the script is clever, filled with gorgeous images better suited to a novel or poem than to a monologue, the threadbare narrative means the burden of the play's success falls squarely on the actor's shoulders in this very male and very neurotic piece of theatre.
Luckily, McCamus pulls the audience into Pain's fragmented mind with his nervous magnetism, his ability to transmit fragility and fury in a single facial tremor. And somehow, with these small, intimate tics, McCamus reveals a touching soul that no amount of modern bluster can overshadow.