Saturday, October 28, 2006

Play: Flop Sweat

Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno, Directed by Jerry Manning, Seattle Rep, October 5 - November 5, 2006

Blame the exhaustion from making the live date. Blame the nascent headcold I am nuturing. Blame the two glasses of overpriced wine. Blame the fact that I had just started reading Scott McCloud's Making Comics and was really enjoying it and would rather still have been reading it. Heck, blame the fact that I'm finally becoming an old fuddy-duddy. But I found Thom Pain to be a shining example of bad theater at its worst.

I wish I was making this up. It was an angst-driven, whiny, confused one-man show, an impressionistic painting of swirling oils that, if you let it wash over you and against you, will eventually clot into a picture, but not a particularly, deep, enjoyable, or interesting picture, and in any event ends up making your skin itch. Sort of a theatrical magic eye painting. You look hard enough, you might see something. Or you might just strain your eyes.

The play starts and stops fitfully, with the actor breaking through the plane of the stage's edge to engage the audience, then proceeding to bite them. Every damn time, until he has forced a sort of fearful victimhood on his prey. Sort of "Knock Knock", "Who's there?" "Only retards answer knock-knock jokes!" No, this line was not in the play, but it could have been. Worse were. Pretentious, mean-spirited and ultimately predictable, from the opening monolog in the darkened stage to the protagonist in business suit and no socks to the lack of a curtain call - instead the actor doing a meet-and-greet in the lobby afterwards. This is tolerable for the first work of the angry young man in some loft space or community college, but out of place here.

How bad was it? Imagine you're hanging out with that bipolar friend, the mildly schizo one? That overly intense pal from college that wants to prove that life sucks, that his life sucks, and therefore, YOUR life must suck, who wants to engage you so desperately that you are thinking of fleeing the room just to escape the terrible gravity of the black-emo-hole that is his world.

One did flee, in the opening five minutes. He was, I think, a plant, an innoculation, calculated to keep the rest of us captive by showing the actor flying off at the mouth at him. The next six people that took off, though, were real, quickly hitting the limits of their tolerance of this foulmouthed, unlikeable, unengaging character.

The actor himself, Todd Jefferson Moore, was pretty good, considering that he was charged with the task of carrying this huge chunk of emptiness onto the stage and creating a character of the type best avoided on public transportation. He wasn't responsible for the bile-driven naration and attempts to wade his way out of it, and best of all (and this is a good point)- sells the character truthfully. Mind you, he isn't a character would want to talk to for one minute more than absolutely necessary.

So what we have here is an avant-garde play that is completely predictable, a mounting rage against the world that neither illuminates nor entertains, a postmodern joke without a punchline.

Knock, Knock.

More later