It's been a time of revivals for The Midnight Company (Bogosian's SEX, DRUGS, the Conor McPherson one-acts), most, like this one, revived not only for their brilliant scripts and continued relevance, but also because Midnight has not been able to secure rights for Will Eno's latest one man show, TITLE AND DEED, and the Company wanted to take advantage of available performance space at Herbie's.
But THOMPAIN (based on nothing) was a more than worthy substitute. Midnight produced it ten years ago, shortly after it debuted to extraordinary acclaim Off-Broadway.
The show is still extraordinary. A sensational, fractured structure; crystalline, transcendent language; laughs, heartbreaks and an actor's assaults for the audience. Response, both in terms of audience size and reaction, was as enthusiastic as the show deserved.
Larry Dell, a regular Midnight contributor, who directed the first iteration of the show, was back on board to helm the show, while Joe Hanrahan repeated the role.
And it was the last show Midnight will do at the Central West End location of Herbie's. ST. NICHOLAS, then THOMPAIN, two runs of SEX, DRUG, ROCK & ROLL, a mini-repertory run of ST. NICHOLAS and THE GOOD THIEF, with THOMPAIN rounding things out. Herbie's will be moving in the Fall.
But the memories of the iconic spot will linger. Once the celebrity dining room of choice for visiting celebrities (Mick Jagger, Paul Newman, the Dalai Lama, more), once the best weekend party spot in town (a place where you could borrow a one-hitter from the bartender, where the waitresses would end the night dancing on the bar), and simply one of the most unique restaurant/bars in the world – a beautiful, chic café, an elegant dining room, and in between, a fairly sleazy bar.
It was also the after rehearsal watering hole for Midnight, and it will be missed.
Thom Paine (based on nothing)
Ann Lemons Pollack
St. Louis Eats and Drinks
As I sat watching Joe Hanrahan in the one-man show Thom Pain (based on nothing) in the basement of Herbie's Vintage 72, I thought how much it felt like the early days of Gaslight Square. One performer, no set to speak of, a small audience, the background noise of eaters and drinkers drifting in, and a strange, sometimes mesmerizing piece of work before us. It could have been the Crystal Palace without the crazy décor.
The Will Eno play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, losing to Doubt, in 2005. The following year, Hanrahan brought it to St. Louis in this very spot. It hasn't aged. The goofy bouncing-off-the-brain script is far from usual. It's like seeing Picasso if someone knew no visual art after, oh, 1900. Yes, it's disjointed, although there is, sort of, a story line. But the nameless narrator veers off in strange, irrational directions, creating almost a word salad that leaves some people chuckling and others scratching their heads. It is not quite absurdist, but it clearly is reminiscent of Samuel Beckett.
Hanrahan relates a tale that begins with a small boy and goes on to talk about a difficult, unsatisfying existence. The audience is never sure what will happen, or be said, next. Hanrahan is relaxed, comfortable in the world of the narrator, oddball as it is, pacing and gesturing and occasionally talking to specific members of the audience. He makes it look easy, creating an experience as much as he's creating theatre.
I'm not sure if Thom Paine could actually be considered performance art, which can sometimes feel deeply self-indulgent. On examination, this is anything but that, its strangeness is carefully thought out and delivered. It runs about 75 minutes, leaving plenty of time for a drink upstairs and a long discussion about the play.
Dinner & A Show: "ThomPain (based on nothing)"
Story: A man walks on stage and proceeds to tell the audience a rambling story that veers between a few primary points amidst its meandering. He's dressed in a dark suit with a tie loosened at his open collar and wearing black, horn-rimmed glasses. Glancing about, the man begins to talk about sundry subjects, including a little boy whose dog was killed, a swarm of bees, and a woman whom he may have loved at one time and maybe still misses.
Highlights: Joe Hanrahan, artistic director of The Midnight Company, teams once again with director Larry Dell to reprise the 10th anniversary of Midnight's 2006 production of ThomPain (based on nothing), Will Eno's one-man play that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. Essentially a stream-of-consciousness monologue, ThomPain aptly fits Hanrahan's description of "existential stand-up."
Other Info: As with the earlier effort, ThomPain is being performed in the wine room at Herbie's Vintage 72 (formerly known as Balaban's), a swan song of sorts before Herbie's leaves its longtime Central West End location for a site in Clayton in the next several weeks.
Eno's 60-minute work does not have a traditional beginning, middle and end, per se. It's a complex, convoluted yarn that goes nowhere and does little except to illuminate the audience about the off-kilter individual who stands before them.
The character has had his share of disappointments in life, and yet he trudges forward. He's a modern Beckett protagonist, sometimes observing the mysteries of life and at other moments flailing away at his existential nightmare.
Hanrahan keeps a level of tension in the air throughout, frequently breaking the fourth wall and even going into the audience to ask a question or two of an audience member, usually not caring what the response might be.
Director Dell allows Hanrahan access to the room as a whole, permitting occasional visits to a bar at stage right that contains a few judiciously selected props: a box of raisins, a bottle of water, an envelope, a script.
Much of the dialogue is amusing, as is Hanrahan's machine-gun delivery that inserts comedy in unexpected moments. The humor keeps an audience off-guard when more poignant moments arise: Was the conversant at one time the little boy whose life was altered when his dog died? And why was the boy's reaction to that death so nonchalant?
Is that the same laissez faire attitude with which the man relates his relationship with a woman long ago? Did he love her but not know how to convey that? Or did he just use her for the pleasures of the moment? Does he himself even understand?
The subtitle of the play, (based on nothing), alludes perhaps to Eno taking a modern stab at playwright Samuel Beckett's 20th century railings against the futility of life and the empty promises that, to his characters, it often fails to deliver. Does Eno's character think that way, too, thus referencing director Dell's observation that Thom Pain is "stand-up tragedy"?
The character's attention span is brief, as expertly revealed by Hanrahan, whose moods can swing and sway at the snap of a finger and the fleeting escape of a moment. Hanrahan is a master of the one-man show, presenting himself to an audience as a storyteller who has cultivated his craft with the discipline shaped over several different works.
ThomPain (based on nothing) brings to mind the premise of the Seinfeld TV series, "a show about nothing." While that landmark enterprise stepped around the minefields of modern life with a humorous edge, Thom Pain mixes in considerable pathos between its moments of absurd humor.
It's different, it's difficult and it's often disturbing. Whether you sympathize with the focal character or pity what can appear to be an empty life depends probably on your own vantage point.
As Dell advises in the program notes, "Don't be hard on yourselves. Don't be troubled by what you might perceive as obscure…Just remember the simple human picture before you." Eno, it would appear, wants you to think quite a bit about what Thom Pain (based on nothing) has to say.
(We did not welcome a full contingent of critics for this one, but several of our peers posted their comments, and we are at least as proud of these as we would be of critics' praise.)
Scott Miller, Artistic Director, New Line Theatre
"Tonight I saw Midnight Company's THOMPAIN (based on nothing) with Joe Hanrahan. Not an easy ride, but a wild, intense and interesting one. Also weirdly, awkwardly – and insightfully – funny. If I had to summarize the show in one sentence, it would 'Fuck your expectations.' It will challenge everything you think you know about storytelling and theatre, and you will say thank you."
Ron Himes, Founder and Producing Director, The Black Rep
"Joe was on fire tonight…don't miss this show…if you haven't seen it, get there. If you saw it before, it's better than you remember, so go see it again."
Christina Rios, Artistic Director, R-S Theatrics
"Wasn't it awesome? We looked into doing it for like three seasons now, it was just never the right time…which now I totally stand by, because Joe knocked it out of the park so hard, they'll have to form a search party and set aside a decade to even find it again."