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Entertainment & Arts

Lauded playwright Will Eno will get a major L.A. production at last, thanks to pal Rainn Wilson

Will Eno

Playwright Will Eno in New York in 2005, when his play “Thom Pain” was an off-Broadway sensation. It will have its belated L.A. premiere at the Geffen Playhouse, starring Rainn Wilson.

(Tina Fineberg / For The Times)

Will Eno, a playwright who’s been a critics’ favorite for the past decade but has been largely missing from L.A. stages, will finally get a prominent production here, thanks to the star power of an old friend -- Rainn Wilson, who’ll perform Eno’s 2004 monologue, “Thom Pain (Based on Nothing)” in a special engagement at the Geffen Playhouse running Jan. 13 to Feb. 14, with previews beginning Jan. 8.

The Geffen’s announcement Tuesday said that Wilson, who’s known for roles on the TV shows “Six Feet Under” and “The Office,” has been a friend of the New York-based Eno for more than 20 years, and they “had spoken about working together for years. It was only recently that the stars aligned.”

Wilson will perform the show in the Geffen’s intimate Audry Skriball Kenis Theater, directed by Oliver Butler. Prices start at $76 to $99, but the Geffen uses a “dynamic pricing” system that can boost the cost if demand gets hot.

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The only Los Angeles productions of plays by Eno that have been reviewed in the pages of the Los Angeles Times were small theater runs of “Tragedy: A Tragedy,” a satire of round-the-clock TV news coverage of disasters, done in 2008 by Son of Semele and “The Flu Season,” about a romance in a psychiatric hospital, staged by California Repertory Company in Long Beach in 2006 and last year by L.A.’s Circle X Theatre Company.

The Rubicon Theatre in Ventura last year hosted a French theater company’s touring production of another Eno monologue play, “Title and Deed,” delivered by the Irish actor Conor Lovett, for whom Eno wrote it.

As for the 11-year-old “Thom Pain,” Toledo beat L.A. to the punch. A small theater in the Ohio city staged it last summer.

Los Angeles Times critic Charles McNulty has cited Eno as one of the adventurous younger playwrights whose work he’d like to see more of on L.A. stages. Just one of Eno’s plays, “The Realistic Joneses,” has been seen on Broadway – a three-month run in 2014 that featured Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei.

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“Thom Pain” was originated by actor James Urbaniak, first at the 2004 Edinburgh Festival, then off-Broadway in 2005. The play is a rambling account of childhood traumas such as the death of a pet dog.

One British paper’s headline in 2004 described it as the “gripping diary of a nobody.” Critics raved about the show and its previously little-known writer, often invoking Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee. The New York Times called it “one of those treasured nights in the theater … that can leave you both breathless with exhilaration and … in a puddle of tears. Also in stitches here and there.”

“Thom Pain” was a finalist for the 2005 Pultizer Prize for drama, which instead went to “Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley, whose comedy “Outside Mullingar” opens Wednesday in the Geffen’s larger Gil Cates Theater.

Although the musical “Hamilton” is making this a big year for the American Revolution and its aftermath onstage, the only apparent connection between “Thom Pain” and the revolutionary firebrand Thomas Paine seems to be that the character in Eno’s play is well acquainted with the times that try men’s souls.

mike.boehm@latimes.com

Follow @boehmm of the LA Times for arts news and features

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