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February 12, 2008

Theatre Reviews: Let’s talk about ‘Thom Pain.’ OK, I’ll begin

(Directed by Mike Brooks. Starring Gil D. Reyes. A Necessary Theatre production. Runs through Feb. 23. Call 636-1311 or visit www.thenecessarytheatre.org for more info.)Shortly into his discourse, Thom Pain says, “If I were you, I’d be sick of this already … or I’d feel sorry. For me.” He’s right on both counts. And that’s why Will Eno’s play, “Thom Pain (based on nothing),” is remarkable. That sort of bald self-awareness is rare. That it is expertly timed is extremely rare. The play, produced by The Necessary Theatre and starring Gil D. Reyes, is a simple affair. Thom Pain enters onto a pointedly dark stage and immediately challenges the audience’s perceptions: “Do you need to see me to hear me? If so, sorry.” This is your cue, viewers. Eno is not interested in subscribing to a set formula. He asks that you abandon your expectation of spectacle in favor of the woefully underdeveloped skill of listening. What follows is a monologue that could possibly be described as rambling, if only you weren’t so sure that this is a playwright to trust, that there is a point in all of it. So your ears remain pricked, not wanting to miss a thing. Could this be why Eno’s unassuming play was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in drama? Every word feels important, vital; in spite of Thom’s flat intonation and circuitous dialogue, you’re compelled to listen with nothing short of absolute attention. Reyes does a fine job as Pain, and Mike Brooks is economical in his direction. The major drawback is the choice of venue. Frankly, The Rudyard Kipling is not ideal for staging any play. Yet this is one of those plays, akin to Suzan Lori-Parks’ “Topdog/Underdog,” that, more likely than not, will impress itself upon the audience almost regardless of the quality of the production. Eno’s style is so distinctive and so deliberate that it seems an actor would have to try hard — or forget his lines — to ruin the desired effect. So what is the point of all this loquacity? Can Thom be explained as existentialism personified? “Picture whatever you want,” Thom tells us. “You’re free, at least to this little extent, yes?” Or is he intended less a study than an attempt to reflect our essential sameness? Indeed, we all had a “heart and body full of bleeding wonder and love” at one time. I’m not sure I can tell you what it’s all about, exactly. But my guess is, I’m not supposed to. Thom is. —Rebecca HaithcoatWhoDunnit’s ‘Curse of Gwynedd’s Renn’ is a delight(Directed by Joe Monroe. A WhoDunnit production. Continues every Saturday through March 15 at Masterson’s, 1830 S. Third St. Call 426-7100 for reservations.)Like me, you may have wondered for years what it’s like to attend a live-action murder mystery. They’re commonly found across America in beds-and-breakfasts, special-event parties and dinner theaters, yet I’d never taken the time until now. I’m glad I did. “Murder By Descent: The Curse of Gwynedd’s Renn,” the sixth and final installment in WhoDunnit’s long-running “Dr. MacCrimmon” series, was a delight. The program consists of three short acts interspersed with meet-and-greet sessions in which audience members ask the actors (in character) questions. Each audience member, while watching the play and munching on chicken or tilapia, assesses the information gleaned from the actors and tries to solve the murder. The imaginative tale (written by Louisville native A.S. Waterman, a founder of the troupe) involves detective Angus MacCrimmon (Frank Whitaker) as he travels to Wales to attend the hanging of a madwoman named Elspeth Greer. Jessica Vautard, who plays Elspeth, was exceptionally effective, conjuring a persona somewhere between Shakespeare’s Ophelia and the crazy street woman in “Sweeney Todd.” Vautard, a DuPont Manual senior, is off to a promising start in her acting career.Graham Bell was also a standout in his performance as Elspeth’s well-to-do father Josiah, bringing the necessary haughtiness to the proceedings. Cory Vaughn was authentic — almost too authentic — in his portrayal of an odiously Dickensian county jailer with the most abrasive laugh this side of Fran Drescher. Vaughn was particularly engaging during the audience Q&A, where the actor’s ability to do quick-thinking improv is crucial. Sets and props are minimal, and the performance is painted with broad Brechtian strokes in order to facilitate the most important elements of storytelling and conveying of clues. This may take some time to get accustomed to, but it’s pleasant fun and makes a great icebreaker date. —Sherry Deatrick