Midnight has announced and is preparing a revival of a production we did ten years ago – THOMPAIN (based on nothing) by Will Eno – a tasty one-man show alternately described as "Existential Stand-Up" (by me) and "Stand-Up Tragedy" (by director Larry Dell) as well as "a small masterpiece" by The New York Times. In 2006, Larry directed me in it, and though it was a popular hit, critics were a bit mystified. Maybe it was me – it was a cult favorite off-Broadway before we did it, and Rainn Wilson just finished a successful run with it in Los Angeles (which proves how timely the show still is.)
But if it was me, it makes me that more eager for a second crack at it. Midnight has done its fair share of revivals, and each time, the second time around with a script has made it a richer, more meaningful event.
Our first revivals came from direct invitations. The first Midnight show was Eric Bogosian's POUNDING NAILS IN THE FLOOR WITH MY FOREHEAD. I'd already performed his DRINKING IN AMERICA and SEX, DRUGS, ROCK 'N ROLL, and it was an easy slide into his new script in a congenial space – the original home of Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis. From there we were invited to perform at INFORM at the Lemp Brewery, a visual arts festival that decided to bring in performing arts. So we did POUNDING AGAIN (in repertory with the first play I wrote for Midnight, LIFE AFTER DEATH.)
That was 1998. Later that year we premiered my script of THE BALLAD OF JESSE JAMES (again at the Contemporary) and from there were invited to visit the James Farm in Kearney, MO, and do the show up there. We fit in several warm-ups before heading there – a bar, a few outdoor venues, and, on our return, at The Missouri History Museum. We also recorded a radio version of the show for KDHX (available on this website.) Each time we did the show, slight revisions cleaned it up, strengthened some moments. And by the time, we hit the James Farm, we were very comfortable in our boots.
In '06, we were invited again up to Kearney. We did a warm-up at Technisonic, and then had one of those mystical theatre experiences, as Frank James' bedroom (where he died) and the James Farm kitchen (where the Pinkertons' bomb killed their little brother) served as our dressing rooms (the porch was the playing area.) As you'd expect, it made for a very heady performance.
In '03, we did a revival of sorts – Bogosian's WORST OF BOGOSIAN, A "best-of" from his previous work. We jumped at it, assembled our favorite pieces, and wrote his agent asking permission. Eric got back to us in a hand-written note, saying, "You guys have done everything else, you might as well do this," and OK'd our solo selections. We toured that show in town – with weekends at a coffee spot on Grand (now The Dark Room), a soundstage at Technisonic Studio (now defunct) and The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill (still featuring Chuck Berry once a month).
In '04, we did Conor McPherson's ST. NICHOLAS and in '08 his THE GOOD THIEF. These were revived last summer in repertory, and both shows were great experiences, with myself as the actor more aware, more intuitive, more in touch with what the characters were going through. Older? Wiser? Seemed like it.
Being older and wiser certainly helped GIVE 'EM HELL HARRY!, the Harry Truman show. We had done it at Orthwein in 1992(when I was too young for the role, and the Orthwein team was too distracted by romantic tragedies and artistic exhaustion to look out for the production). I had done it then in support of Clinton's first campaign, just as I did it again for Midnight in '09 to celebrate Obama's. I truly had a better understanding of the momentous world issues Truman faced, and an appreciation for the experience his life lived had given him. The Midnight show was a consistent sell-out at Missouri History Museum, where their patrons were our natural audience.
In Summer, 2014 (and again in January 2015, a revival of a revival) Midnight produced SEX, DRUGS, ROCK 'N ROLL. (I had originally done the show as part of a Late Night series at The Orthwein.) Bogosian's material was still shockingly relevant and sturdily entertaining (he had just completed 100 MONOLOGUES in New York, a celebration and performance of all of his solos.) I was able to bring a fire to the work that I know I didn't have before, a personal quest to get these points about our world, its peoples and quirks to the audience. And I could feel the power and the flexibility that my knowledge of and experience with Bogosian's work brought to the forefront.
Which brings us to one more revival – THOMPAIN (based on nothing) – coming later this summer. Don't get me wrong – though there's many one-man shows here, I love ensembles, medium (ONE FLEA SPARE last summer) and small (THE TWO-CHARACTER PLAY, imminent), as well as being involved in new scripts and work new to St. Louis.
But I understand that these revivals give an actor the rare chance to go back over proven ground – great scripts, still strong, still timely – and bring to them the stage and life experience that helps make any play worthwhile.
This is going to be the case with THOMPAIN (based on nothing).