Thom Pain (based on Nothing)

Jonathan Bock as Thom Pain. Photo by Bryan Wolf
Jonathan Bock as Thom Pain. Photo by Bryan Wolf

by Will Eno
directed by Marissa Wolf
March 13 – May 9

"Run don't walk. Four stars. Plus an extra! Mr. Eno is a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation."
– The New York Times

In Will Eno's bitingly funny one-man show, Thom Pain searches through the wreckage of his life to uncover the remains of his childhood.

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"THOM PAIN (based on nothing)"
March 13 – April 5, 2009SAN FRANCISCO (February xx, 2009) – San Francisco’s cutting-edge Cutting Ball Theater continues its 2008-09 season with the Bay Area Premiere of playwright Will Eno’s London and Off-Broadway hit THOM PAIN (based on nothing).Crowded Fire Artistic Director Marissa Wolf helms this Pulitzer Prize-nominated one-man meditation on the empty promises that life makes, starring Jonathan Bock. THOM PAIN (based on nothing)plays March 13 through April 5 (Press opening: Friday, March 13) at the Cutting Ball Theater in residence at Exit on Taylor (277 Taylor Street) in San Francisco. Will Eno will be in residence at Cutting Ball; there will be a special opening night reception and Q&A on March 13 at 6:30pm with Eno, director Marissa Wolf, and Cutting Ball Artistic Director Rob Melrose. For tickets ($15-30) and more information, the public may visit or call 800-838-3006

This isn’t your average one-man show. Thom Pain is trying to save his life to save your life, in that order. Filled with biting humor, desire, and lost innocence, THOM PAIN (based on nothing), called "brilliant" by Entertainment Weekly, is a sharply-crafted solo show about one ordinary man’s extraordinary search through the wreckage of his life. Hailed as "astonishing …a small masterpiece" by The New York Times, this insightful, at times surreal, monologue catalogues the eternal agonies of the human condition in wit and one last-ditch plea for empathy and enlightenment.

"Cutting Ball is honored to produce the Bay Area Premiere of THOM PAIN (based on nothing)," said Cutting Ball Artistic Director Rob Melrose. “The New York Times called Will Eno, 'a Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation.’ Right now, I am at the Guthrie Theater directing Beckett’s Happy Days, and as I work on Beckett’s words and prepare for Will Eno’s premiere in the Bay Area simultaneously, I am struck by what a perfect description of Eno’s work that is. Both Beckett’s and Eno’s plays are filled with a wicked sense of humor and a profound depth. Their works burrow down into the most intimate vulnerabilities of the human soul – with both writers, at one moment I am laughing myself to the floor and the next I feel as though I am having a spiritual epiphany. Will Eno is very much of our time, putting his profound ideas in the forms of stand-up comedy and the 24-hour news cycle. The fact that he is able to tackle such weighty themes in forms we associate with glibness and superficiality is what makes his work so surprising and catches us off guard – he is one of the most exciting playwrights alive today.”

Will Eno is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Helen Merrill Playwriting Fellow, and a Fellow of the Edward F. Albee Foundation; he is the recipient of the first-ever Marian Seldes/Garson Kanin Playwriting Fellowship, nominated by Edward Albee). THOM PAIN (based on nothing), which premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and subsequently transferred to London, opened Off-Broadway in New York in 2005, where it ran for over 400 performances; it was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Drama. Eno’s other work for the stage includes The Flu Season, which premiered at The Gate Theatre in London and then opened in New York, where it won the Oppenheimer Award (2004) for best debut by an American playwright; Intermission, which premiered at the Ensemble Studio Theatre’s One-Act Marathon in 2006; a collection of short plays, Oh, The Humanity and other good intentions, was produced at the Flea Theater in New York in 2007, starring Marisa Tomei and Brian Hutchison; TRAGEDY: a tragedy had its U.S. premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theater in 2008 (an excerpt of the play appeared in the June 2006 issue of Harper’s Magazine). Additionally, Eno taught playwriting at Princeton University and was a Hodder Fellow; he was recently named a Fellow of the Cullman Center of the NY Public Library.

Jonathan Bock makes his Cutting Ball debut as the titular Thom in THOM PAIN (based on nothing).Bock’s regional credits include As Bees in Honey Drown at New Conservatory Theatre, Crystal Christian and Blue Grass at Magic Theatre, and roles at FoolsFury and the Willows Theatre. Bock will return to Cutting Ball in May to play the role of Pélleas in the company’s Open Process workshop of Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pélleas and Mélisande, in a new translation by Cutting Ball Artistic Director Rob Melrose.

Director Marissa Wolf was recently named Artistic Director of Crowded Fire Theatre, where she was an Artistic Associate for three years. Her directing credits include Crowded Fire’s West Coast Premiere of Gone by Charles Mee, her experimental adaptation of Gertrude Stein’s long poem, Lifting Belly (FoolsFURY), and Marguerite Duras’ story The Malady of Death (Fury Factory). Wolf previously held the Bret C. Harte Directing Internship at Berkeley Repertory Theater for two years, where she assisted renowned directors including Tony Taccone, Les Waters, Lisa Peterson, Annie Dorsen, Frank Galati, and Mary Zimmerman. She studied directing at Vassar College and received additional training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

Co-founded in 1999 by husband and wife team Rob Melrose and Paige Rogers, Cutting Ball Theater presents avant-garde works of the past, present, and future by re-envisioning classics, exploring seminal avant-garde texts, and developing new experimental plays. Cutting Ball Theater has partnered with Playwrights Foundation, Magic Theatre, and Z Space New Plays Initiative to commission new experimental works, including Bone to Pick by Eugenie Chan. The company has produced a number of World Premieres and West Coast Premieres, and re-imagined various classics. Recipient of the 2008 San Francisco Bay Guardian Goldie award for outstanding talent in the performing arts, Cutting Ball Theater earned the Best of SF award in 2006 from SF Weekly, and was selected by San Francisco Magazine as Best Classic Theater in 2007.


San Francisco’s cutting-edge Cutting Ball Theater continues its 2008-09 season with the Bay Area Premiere of playwright Will Eno’s London and Off-Broadway hit THOM PAIN (based on nothing). Filled with biting humor, desire, and lost innocence, this sharply-crafted solo show is the tale of one man’s search through the wreckage of his life to uncover the remains of his childhood. Crowded Fire Artistic Director Marissa Wolf helms this surreal meditation on the empty promises that life makes, called “astonishing in its impact . . . a small masterpiece” by The New York Times. Will Eno will be in residence at Cutting Ball; there will be a special opening night reception and Q&A on March 13 at 6:30pm with Eno, director Marissa Wolf, and Cutting Ball Artistic Director Rob Melrose.

Opens: March 13 at 8pm (Press opening: Friday, March 13 at 8pm)
Closes: April 5 at 5pm
All performances Thursday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm

The Cutting Ball Theater in residence at EXIT on Taylor
277 Taylor St., San Francisco

For tickets ($15-30) and more information, the public may visit or call 800-838-3006; discounts available for students and seniors

Art for THOM PAIN (based on nothing) can be found at
or by emailing brightbutterfly[at]

Cutting Ball Theater’s production of THOM PAIN (based on nothing) is made possible in part by grants from Grants for the Arts / San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund and Mental Insight Foundation.
Originally produced at SOHO Theatre Company, London 2004. Abigail Morris, Artistic Director, Mark Godfrey, Administrative Producer. Original New York Production Produced by Daryl Roth and Bob Boyett.
THOM PAIN (based on nothing) is produced by special arrangement with the Mark Christian Subias Agency, New York.

“An aggressively funny, coolly insouciant piece of theater terrorism now up in a laser-focused, captivating production (and I mean captivating — you don't dare budge for the 60-minute duration) from Cutting Ball Theater. The Bay Area premiere of Will Eno's Thom Pain (based on nothing) is nothing you want to miss, or a nothing you want very much to see, especially if you ever wondered what might have happened if Groucho Marx had postponed his birth until he might be cast in Reservoir Dogs(1992).”
-SF Bay Guardian

“Don’t Miss…Jonathan Bock plays a young man who tries to create meaning from the string of disappointments and tragedies that make up his life. His stream-of-consciousness-style monologue is existential, at times surreal and suffused with humor – a rant representing a lost generation who never learned how to feel.”
-San Francisco Chronicle

“Cutting Ball’s production makes exquisitely concentrated use of the stage space of their Tenderloin theater. The actor Jonathan Bock gives a splendidly frenetic portrayal of a person on the verge of rationality as he works the room, pacing left and right. His dead-pan delivery makes his discursive, plot-free vignettes all the more philosophically intriguing and his quick dismissals of subject matters keep the supposed free-association thought-chain linked.”
-SF Bay Times

“When you're done thinking about all of that, get your ass down to the Exit Stage on Taylor and watch Jonathan Bock's amazing performance. Unlike many monologues (which call for an actor to impersonate a variety of characters), what you see in Mr. Bock is what you get. One man coping with a narrative, playing with an audience and, in the process, creating theatrical magic. Steak, not sizzle.”
-My Cultural Landscape

Here’s what they are saying on Yelp!

“You would be doing yourself a great disservice if you did not go see Thom Pain….amazing, amazing, amazing…Will Eno's words are to my mind as candy is to my mouth…do it!”

“Tom Pain (based on nothing) deserved the standing ovation it got on Friday night! Jonathan Bock is magnificent in Will Eno's masterpiece. Cutting Ball has added another fantastic show to its history of success.

Marissa Wolf's masterful direction contributes another layer of theatrical excellence to Rob Melrose and Paige Rogers' imaginative creative talented company.

You have to experience Tom Pain. I can't describe it except to say that the audience was laughing and not all at the same things. Eno's plays are witty and acerbic, irreverent; Tom Pain is wonderful entertainment. Bock was flawless; clearly a master of physicality and presence.

The Q&A before the show with Will Eno and Rob Melrose was delightful. I appreciate the opportunity to "meet" Will Eno and see him take questions from the audience. Exit on Taylor is the new home of Cutting Ball Theatre. If anyone can make one feel welcome and warm in this 'interesting' Tenderloin location, these folks do! The economy may be dire and news from everywhere is bad, Cutting Ball provides entertainment and soothes the spirit in these troubled times. Support them, enjoy great theatre! Bring your friends; it's a great night out!”

“Wow, great show! I had heard about Thom Pain when it premiered in New York, and was thrilled to learn of its opening in San Francisco. The verdict? It blew away my already-high expectations.

Jonathan Bock was outstanding as Thom…this is such a complex, pained character, and yet Jonathan infused a cutting (no pun intended) humor that had the Friday night audience rolling at many points. This is a character you absolutely need to see…within a 5-minute period he can charm you, scare you, and teach you about the curious workings of the mind. I was riveted for the entire hour.

Will Eno's play is truly a masterwork of language, and this production at the Cutting Ball completely delivers. Very moving, darkly funny, completely engaging. In short, fantastic!”

“THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING), written by Will Eno and directed by Marissa Wolf in this stunning Bay Area premiere, is a compelling, gorgeously crafted play — mordantly humorous, it features one Thom Pain (played with great power and intelligence by Jonathan Bock), who appears to have rented this space for an hour to try to make a connection with an audience, to share something important if possible. (I should add that I am a close relative of this young director, Marissa Wolf — my good fortune!)

The play starts in darkness as Thom walks on and tries to light a match, and it ends in darkness, with the lingering image of his serious, evocative face. In between, this one-person show, directed with great vision, grace, and precision by Wolf and brought to vivid, brilliant life by Jonathan Bock, engages the audience in each precisely created, funny, painful, surprising, or moving moment.

Eno claims Beckett as an influence; I see a more immediate influence in sharp-tongued, suffering comedians like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor, and in the tense, disturbing, moving plays of Edward Albee, with his sense of the futile and shifting "games" played between humans, often at great cost. "Only connect," as Forster said — and even though the connection is often a brittle one in Eno's world, the overwhelming sense by the end of this beautifully produced play is that connection is, in spite of all, not only possible but profoundly necessary.

Kudos to Cutting Ball Theater for a gorgeous and significant show.”

“THOM PAIN (based on nothing) by Will Eno is a remarkable theater piece. The NY Times has proclaimed Eno a "Samuel Beckett for the Jon Stewart generation," and that is totally apt! This piece — an hour+ monologue that keeps you totally engaged, thinking, wondering — is wickedly funny as well as thought-provoking. Jonathan Bock does a fine job in this demanding role, in which the audience is far more participant than mere observer. Get tickets NOW — the theater is small and the run short; you don't want to miss this.”

“Thom Pain (based on nothing) is playing through 4.5. If you like plays with plots that entertain and amuse, this isn't the best choice. On the other hand, if you don't mind having your psyche poked, getting stared down by the star, and being in the dark for a while (literally), this is a great choice. Whatever your preference, this short one-hour piece will give you lots to discuss afterward.

Jonathan Bock gives a stellar performance delivering Twitter-size streams of consciousness on life's transitory pain points. In the character's ADD addled way, he riffs on the end of childhood innocence and losing a first love, all while engaging the audience (sometimes physically) in the process.

Like the Beckett characters they've been compared to, Will Eno's Thom Pain is miserable from the inside out in a world that doesn't offer many bright spots. However, every once in a while, his pain doubles back on itself, giving him (and us) the belief that this too, may just pass.

Hint: if you're shy like me, don't sit in the front row or on the end of the aisle. Also, this isn't appropriate for children, as there's strong language and graphic verbal imagery.”

“Cutting Ball Theater -it's name is an oxymoron – a ball that cuts. It's a great space for an initmate show. I watched Thom Pain this weekend and it was great! The theater was a no frill, in your face, simple tribute to the arts. Sure, it's located in the Tenderloin, but that's probably why the tickets are so affordable -no overhead.

On to Thom Pain. It was a great one-man show. It starts off with the sole (soul) actor Jonathon Bock, standing in the middle of the room, trying to light a stage. After several failed attempts I can see this is the essence of the show. No, not smoking, but your attempts to live… through life. After the show was over, partner and I found that the show spoke to us in totally different ways. The same sentences that were spoken provoked different feelings and thoughts in our heads. I love theater. My favorite thought provoking idea for the evening:

*What would you do if you only had one day to live? (Well that's easy)… But what would you do if you only had 40 years to live??

I still can't believe how utterly and sensibly ENOUGH it was. "Let it be enough", he says, and it totally was.

Lastly, "except for everything – it was perfect"

A review in Spanish in SF Tribune