I enter the theater to the sound of giggling from the stage. Sam Bolen ’11, Matthew George ’11 and Kiki Fehling ’11 are hopping about the stage, spouting out nonsense words as a warm-up before the show, “Thom Pain (based on nothing).” “I’ll never be good at this!” Bolen says amid laughter.
Ten minutes later, the lights are extinguished as the play begins. Bolen launches into an associative tangent about a boy, a cowboy costume, a violin, flaming bows. “Now go fuck yourselves,” he spits. It’s such a harsh contrast to the good-natured boy who was dancing around the stage barefoot only ten minutes earlier. This isn’t your pamphlet-writing, revolution-sparking Tom Paine from social studies class. This is something much, much darker.
“Thom Pain” is Bolen’s senior project for the theater studies major.
“I decided what I really wanted was a play that presented a very specific challenge, something I’d never attempted,” Bolen said.
“Thom Pain” certainly is an ambitious performance. A one-man show, the play is a very one-sided dialogue between the character and the audience. “What if you only had one day to live?” Thom poses to the audience as he stares at us expectantly. And just as I’ve thought of something interesting to say, he casts off into another subject.
Director Matthew George describes the show as being “very much based on audience interaction.” Though the audience rarely has a chance to get a word in edgewise, George isn’t exaggerating. Bolen doesn’t keep to the stage, but wanders up and down the aisles and gets close to the viewers. He perceptively reads the reactions of the crowd and becomes more frenzied, more somber, more hilarious.
The title of the play is no misnomer. It truly is about nothing in particular. Thom tells stories about dead pets and the loss of childhood and stinging bees and not being loved. He opens up about getting too close and running away out of fear of being left alone — and herpes. He is the embodiment of all of our thoughts on all of our most depressive days. The man is selfish and annoying. He is easily pitied and a bit pathetic. But he is supposed to be. When Thom demanded that I “think of a pink elephant,” I thought of a blue one just to spite him.
The script attempts to touch upon profundity and succeeds several times. But on the 19th incarnation of, “They were close, not fully there, but close…” with the voice trailing away at the end, I was just irritated. At times, the incessant talking and jumping from story to story and back again to the first story became tiresome, but Bolen was always able to steal my attention back with a good joke. (Listen for the one about the horse.)
Years ago, Bolen made his theater debut as Piglet in “The House of Pooh.” By the time he entered Yale, he was ready to plunge into acting headfirst, earning roles in several Dramat productions and participating in smaller student-written productions. Now at the start of his senior year, Bolen is ready to command the stage alone. “Being the only person on stage for an hour was something that terrified and excited me at the same time,” Bolen said. Well, he has nothing to be afraid of. Bolen owns the show.
“Thom Pain (based on nothing)” will run Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Whitney Theater.