‘Pain’ in the asking

A curmudgeonly man, bespectacled in a plain black suit and bare feet like Yves St. Laurent at the beach, thumbs through a dictionary in the dark, telling stories that go nowhere. He’s a contrarian, obviously the survivor of a troubled past, but not really equipped to explain it. This is us, he tells the audience directly, interacting “face to face with the modern mind.” God, I hope not.

The absurdism that is Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) is smart (almost too smart), and it challenges you in assaultive but funny ways, with lots of word play amid the fatalistic rants. I’m not sure where it’s headed — absurdist plays are often unfathomable that way — but I do know that Steven Walters is the actor to lead us there.

His modulation of energy as he relates stories — about a dead dog, about anger and fear and relationships — it what can sustain you for 70 minutes of one voice talking to you on a mostly black stage. This show marks Second Thought Theatre’s artistic reboot; it’s a good way to begin.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Through Jan. 29 at Addison Theatre Centre. SecondThoughtTheatre.org.

—  John Wright