Thom Pain (based on nothing) a Searing Lesson in How Life Is Messy and Wonderful and Sucks From Time to Time

The setup:
Life sucks. That's not a direct quote from the eponymous “hero” (George Parker) of Will Eno's tantalizing 75-minute monologue Thom Pain (based on nothing), but you get the idea.

Brought to searing life through Catastrophic Theatre, Pain – or should I say playwright Eno – is too smart to be so prosaic, too snarky to be so mundane. This is steam of consciousness as stand-up, an angst-filled comedy rant via Lenny Bruce channeling the Great One, Samuel Beckett. Existentialism has never been more fun, more exfoliating or, in Pain's most-used description, more fearful.

The execution:
Eno hurls words like Jackson Pollock tossed paint. He splatters everywhere, seemingly at random, but the pattern and design are clearly there. If you saw Catastrophic's poignant Middletown last season, you know this playwright's sadistic, dark undertones. He swamps you in language.

Sporting black horn-rimmed glasses and dressed in a shapeless black suit with white pocket handkerchief, Parker, as Thom Pain, is the epitome of anonymity. You wouldn't look at him twice walking down the street, and his facelessness is his ultimate defense and his ultimate cry from the heart. Notice me, he shouts, but then quickly turns away when you do.

Life is a mess, life is wonderful, life is hell. “I strike people as the man who just left,” he says with sly downward wink and, yet, complete self-deprecation. He knows where he is, which is nowhere. How did he get here? That's the gist of the play. We soon realize, which Eno dramatizes in language fragrant and hurtful, that he's not alone. He's no different than we are. We're just like this schlub. We are this schlub. “When did your childhood end?” he asks with wicked smile.

Eno smacks us in the face. His juicy, precise language jabs like a hypodermic filled with sodium pentothal. As if witnessing, or maybe attending, some AA meeting, Parker commands the stage with this rambling tour-de-force monologue. Non sequiturs abound as he leads us – shoves us, actually – through this quasi-bio. He dissects his unfulfilled heart with clinical panache and sorrowful glee. Are these traumas he's living through, or just the dead horse of his life? What better venue than the former church at 14 Pews for this intimate/universal confession? The sad, lonesome little boy grows up into a sad, lonesome little man. Both are lost. Life is gritty: vomit, cum, blood, sweat, tears. Pleasure is fleeting, but the telling can be hilarious. We slip on the blackest of bile as slickly as on a banana peel.

The verdict:
Monologues are in vogue this season. Witness Grounded at the Alley, The Other Mozart from Lott Entertainment and Wiesenthal at JCC. Pain's in excellent company. Darker and more insidiously entertaining, it throttles with a joker's determined grin. You may not feel fingers around your throat, but without warning, the air's gone.

Fear, depression, frustration, humiliation, failure, you name it, this is what we have to deal with. Eno exalts in capital letters and quotation marks. Raw and unfiltered, Pain is the life force, or as close as we're going to get. Sure, life sucks, but, as Eno (mesmerizing), Parker (spectacular) and director Jason Nodler (precise) encapsulate, the alternative is so much worse and nowhere near as frightfully sardonic. God help us...somebody help us...anybody?

Thom Pain (based on nothing) continues through April 24. Catastrophic Theatre at 14 Pews, 800 Aurora. For more information, call 713-522-2723 or visit Pay what you will.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover