All the lights go off and the theater is plunged into a blackness so intense that you feel you can reach out and grab it.
After a few long moments you sense that there is someone on stage. Whoever it is, after waiting another long moment, produces a flame so small as to be nearly invisible and attempts to light what might be a cigarette. Then, only his eyes reflecting the tiny light, he turns to the audience and, peering through the darkness, says, “Good to see you.” And the stage lights blast on.
This is our introduction to Thom Pain, as portrayed by Rainn Wilson, who is best known for his nine seasons of badgering Steve Carell on the American version of the British television sitcom “The Office.”
Wilson’s current show, which opened earlier this month at the Geffen Playhouse, is actually titled “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” and that tells you everything you need to know about the play.
As presented by Wilson, the dialogue is as full of long pauses as anything by Pinter and as convoluted as most of Beckett. It encompasses a disconnected stream of non-sequiturs and “gotcha!” moments as Wilson veers from one topic to another in the story he is determined to tell.
His story begins with an introduction to a small, strange, deformed boy playing the violin and then watching a dog being electrocuted while drinking from a mud puddle that a wire has fallen into. The boy, we are told, has a heart full of wonder and love.
“Whatever,” Wilson remarks while rambling from one digression to another.
“Feel free to feel anything,” he advises.
Suddenly he announces enthusiastically, “It’s time for the raffle!” and darts offstage. He disappears for a long moment and returns to say, “There is no raffle” and to congratulate himself for perpetrating one of his first “gotchas”: “I got you all to rummage around looking for your theater stub,” he chortles.
He speaks sporadically of a woman who arouses his passion. They have “a wonderful time” and then he tells her “I’m going to take you home and go somewhere else.” He confesses to the audience, “She felt, wrongly, that she could tell me anything.”
He returns to the misadventures of the little boy, now being stung by a huge swarm of bees.
He returns to the story line of the woman, confiding, “I disappeared in her and she, wondering where I went, left.”
And so it goes. There’s a message there somewhere-of a man without focus trying to fathom the unknowable. A man who has been described by the playwright as “Just like you, except worse.” But happily, there is very often laughter.
Wilson does a fine job of deadpanning his way through 80 minutes of the meaningful inanity and inspired lunacy of his longtime friend, the award-winning playwright Will Eno. This play was a finalist in the competition for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and has been produced around the world more than 100 times. It premiered at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2004, where it won a First Fringe Award, moved on to London in September 2004, and on to New York in February 2005.
Its director, Oliver Butler, has worked with Eno before, winning an Obie for direction of Eno’s “The Open House,” which also won the Lucille Lortel award for Outstanding Play and the Drama Desk Ensemble Award. Butler, in working with Wilson in “Thom Pain,” exquisitely directs the actor through a quirky and taxing performance of a marvelously ingenuous play. But it demands that you pay attention!
“Thom Pain (based on nothing)” will be performed in the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with additional performances Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Feb. 14.
Call (310) 208 5454 for tickets, or visit the website at tickets.geffenplayhouse.com.