King of pain

Aug. 2, 2007

Just before a read-through rehearsal of his first one-man play, Tom Dillon sits in the intimate confines of the Boulevard Theatre and contemplates the nuances of the character he is about to portray.

"Thom Pain absolutely loves words, he just loves the language," Dillon said.

In "Thom Pain (based on nothing)," New York playwright Will Eno crafts those words into an unrelenting monologue that amuses, manipulates and ultimately provokes the audience into feeling something, anything.

The play was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and took top honors at the 2004 Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

"One reviewer described it as what would happen if Jon Stewart and Samuel Beckett had a baby," Dillon said. "There's a lot of intellectual playfulness."

Although it is by no means a romantic comedy, Dillon said he finds a theme of love laced throughout the script.

"Like the love of a woman and how wonderful it is to be in love, even if it doesn't work out," because, Dillon said, some people never find love at all.

Examining shards of language

Dillon, who starred in the Boulevard's production of "The Days of Wine and Roses" and also tackled roles in "The Mandrake" and Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," said he has been giving a lot of thought to the prospect of being the only actor on stage during "Thom Pain."

"You're working on behalf of the playwright and the character in the show, and you want to do a good job for both. So there's that responsibility to take into consideration," he said.

But Dillon is savoring the time he takes to peel back the layers of Thom Pain's persona.

"He's got such a broad vocabulary and such a sharp tongue," Dillon said. "And also such a cadence. It's not just the words, it's the way he uses words."

Like his character, Dillon is hopelessly addicted to the subtleties of language. He is a voracious reader - theatrical scripts, primarily, "to broaden my vocabulary" - and he said he relishes the opportunity to sit down and talk with people who share his appreciation for "rich words; words with depth to them."

Theater gets under his skin

As a high school student, Dillon would get together with friends on Saturday nights and write plays.

He is a regular participant in Buddy Gumbo's Combat Theatre, a biannual event that would test the mettle of any writer. Dillon is one of eight playwrights who challenge themselves to write a short play on a randomly chosen subject in just one night, and then stage it in a randomly chosen location the next.

After graduating with a theater major from the High School of the Arts in 1997, Dillon was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for his freshman year before transferring to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He graduated from UWM in 2003 with a degree in theater.

Dillon has thought seriously about trying to carve out a career as an actor and writer. He works in the corporate offices of Kohl's and, for the moment, is content to do "a little bit of acting in town." He said he is "not quite ready to take the plunge."

But perhaps his one-man performance in "Thom Pain (based on nothing)" will change all that. At the very least, Dillon said he hopes it will be the catalyst for changing the thinking of some in the audience.

"I want people to walk out the door and be motivated to do something great - something they wouldn't do without seeing the show," he said. "I want them to think about what they're doing with their lives. It's (Eno's) hope that it's going to scare you into doing something progressive."

Nan Bialek keeps tabs on

the South Shore's creative side.

To contact her about an art topic, call South Shore NOW

at (262) 446-6632 or e-mail

At a glance

WHAT: "Thom Pain (based on nothing)"

WHO: by Will Eno, starring Tom Dillon, directed by Mark Bucher

WHERE: Boulevard Theatre, 2252 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14 (preview performance), Wednesday, Aug. 15, and Thursday, Aug. 16; 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 17 and Saturday, Aug. 18; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 19; 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24, Saturday, Aug. 25; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26; 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31 and Saturday, Sept. 1; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 2

INFO: Call (414) 744-5757 or visit

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