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‘Thom Pain’ a tour-de-force for Lance Baker

Lance Baker stars 'Thom Pa(based nothing)' Theater Wit. | PHOTO COPYRIGHT THEATER WIT

Lance Baker stars in "Thom Pain (based on nothing)" at Theater Wit. | PHOTO COPYRIGHT THEATER WIT

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(based on nothing)’


When: Through July 27

Where: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont

Tickets: $12-$36

Info: (773) 975-8150;

Run time: 65 minutes, with no intermission

Updated: July 10, 2013 8:57PM

There is something altogether delicious about watching an actor at the peak of his powers as he moves through a one-man show, bringing that mix of superbly honed technique and emotional confidence that is the product of both years of stage work and years of real-life experience.

Lance Baker, an actor with an impeccable feel for the way words can both bruise and caress, and for the way silences and asides can serve as potent dramatic punctuation marks, is one of those actors. And in Will Eno’s alternately arch and agonizing “Thom Pain (based on nothing),” now at Theater Wit, he has found the ideal showcase.

This is Baker’s second go at Brooklyn-based writer Eno’s self-lacerating, ego-stripping, pain-streaked, 65-minute monologue that is in equal parts bitter and despairing. The actor won a Jeff Award for solo performance when he first performed the piece in 2007. Now, once again under the direction of Jeremy Wechsler (but this time around in the spare yet elegant confines of Theater Wit), Baker brings a new depth and vulnerability to the work. What he gives us is part public confessional by a man in the throes of a profound crisis of faith, part act of self-mocking performance art and part session on the couch with the audience in the role of mostly silent shrink.

Just to clarify: The punning title that evokes the name of Tom Paine, the pamphleteer of the American Revolutionary era, is a total red herring. Instead, think of Eno’s work as the self-portrait of a very bright, endlessly self-examining man trying (vainly) to come to terms with profound heartbreak and disillusion with life — something he has understood on some level ever since childhood.

And yes, there is a dead dog story involved, as Pain conjures the memory of a little boy in a cowboy suit who loved and lost his pet. But that incident is just the prologue to his adulthood, when a romance that seemed to have had “forever” emblazoned on it suddenly ends. Or so we deduce from the many fractured clues he provides, with Eno’s potent erotic shorthand reminiscent of some of Samuel Beckett’s writing.

With the death of Pain’s relationship comes plenty of acid-etched questioning about the elusive nature of love itself, and about the possibility of ever believing in another person, one’s self, or much of anything else.

“Do you like magic?,” Pain repeatedly asks the audience in what is an ongoing bit of passive-aggressive teasing.

It’s a rhetorical question, of course, superbly orchestrated by Baker, whose performance so perfectly captures a man whose illusions have been shattered.

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