Friday, April 16, 2010
The Pain and The Itch - by Bruce Norris
Premiered at Steppenwolf then Playwrights Horizons, The Pain and The Itch is a satire of liberal suburbanites so focused on their correctness they don't perceive the rot in their own house.
It unfolds in two time periods. A present time, an afternoon in January and the past, the previous Thanksgiving evening. In the present parents Kelly and Clay are recounting the events of the previous Thanksgiving to Mr. Hadid. Their daughter, 4, wanders in and out and their baby cries occasionally. Kelly and Clay try to tell the story in the best possible light. The action fluidly shifts into that past moment. In addition to Kelly and Clay, Clay's mother Carol, and brother Cash are also present for the holiday meal. Cash has also brought his young, eastern european girlfriend.
In the first scene Mr. Hadid is visiting and Clay and Kelly play host. A tone is set, Kelly and Clay avoid getting to any point by talking about themselves - establishing their world-view (their 'type') - and more importantly a mystery is planted that isn't revealed until the final scene of the play. The incongruity of Mr. Hadid, an older man in a skull cap, a recent immigrant, in the suburban living room of these young parents who are prattling on, asks a question - and the rest of the play un-ravels the answer.
By moving between the two time periods there is the occasional relief from the claustrophobic thanksgiving meal this family is attempting to have. These scenes are pitched high, the conflict and animosity burbling up and the 'pain and itch' of the title growing, literally, more insistent. Before it is too much though the play leaps back to the present. The parents re-telling their side of the story and Mr. Hadid calming listening, quietly - non-judgmentally - taking in this young couple.
And the mystery unravels by the end. And really, the effect is more horrible than you were expecting. Satire indeed. And a condemnation of particularly strident attitudes.