‘THOM PAIN (based on nothing)’ at Cutting Ball

thom.jpgCutting Ball is having an incredible season. Victims of Duty by Eugene Ionesco and Mud by Maria Irene Fornes were both wonderful. And now they’re running Will Eno’s Thom Pain (based on nothing) — a play that the New York Times called a masterpiece and awarded five out of four stars.

I have to admit, back when I first read the play, I didn’t get it. I rushed out and dug up a copy back when I read that review, seeing as how it was a masterpiece and all, and couldn’t quite figure out the tone. Or something. It was a while back, so I can’t precisely recall what I thought, except that maybe the New York Times was being a little over the top. It was pretty good, I thought, but a masterpiece?

Well, now that I’ve seen the show in person, I’m completely on board. This thing is brilliant. It’s almost impossible to describe, but I liked Isherwood’s phrase: “stand-up existentialism.” It’s funny, witty, quirky, odd; it’s moving, touching, sometimes surreal. It’s completely aware there’s an audience but not interactive or assaultive. It’s pretty much, you know, a masterpiece.

Cutting Ball’s production is directed by Marissa Wolf and acted by Jonathan Bock, and they’ve put together something really special. Every second of the direction is right on; every line is delivered in such a way that you feel like an idiot for not having grasped all the nuances back when you read it. (That may just be me.)

The night I went, playwright Will Eno was in attendance and part of an incredibly charming Q and A. I’ve done one or two of them myself, and Eno exquisitely captured what’s so odd about it: You can’t honestly believe anyone would find your answers to their questions interesting, so you’re temporarily flummoxed as you debate whether to make up something cooler or just answer the question.

Between the Q and A and the show, I ducked over to Farmer Brown with Mei Ann Teo and Eugenie Chan. Never been there, but this may be the replacement for the late lamented Original Joe’s. Perfect post-Exit location, and good bourbon on — hmm, I was going to say on tap, but that’s not right. On hand, I guess.

After the show, there was a little reception and a whole lot of buzz. A couple of guys leaving the theater summed it up when one turned to his friend and said, “Dude, that’s the best play I’ve seen in like, I don’t know.”

Neither do I, dude.

Thom Pain (based on nothing) by Will Eno, at Cutting Ball Theater, 277 Taylor St, San Francisco, through April 5. Tickets at cuttingball.com.

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