“The Pain and the Itch” by Bruce Norris is the story of a very dysfunctional family and the fateful Thanksgiving day that irreparably collides their path with that of a family across town and the repercussions of that day. The play is set up so that a story is being related through a series of flashbacks. The audience doesn’t know why the story is being told, or who the man is that they are telling the story to. This is revealed slowly, and I mean SLOWLY, as the play progresses. This storytelling device is used quite often and when done well can be very engaging if the author is able to dole out just the right amount of information so that the viewer stays hooked. However, Norris takes entirely too long to reveal the premise of the play. I can usually tell you how a plot is going to play out before intermission hits, but with this play I had no idea what the point of the story being told was or how the mystery man fit in. And quite frankly I didn’t care, because I didn’t like any of the characters.
The subject matter discussed through-out the play – wealth, porn, sexual abuse, politics (which is very dated as all of the diatribes are against Bush) – all seem like worthy topics to be discussed and focused on. However, as there doesn’t seem to be a through line to any of the discussions, each new topic brought up serves as just another vehicle for the characters to complain. The people that make up this family are completely reprehensible. They are horrible to each other, entitled and pretentious. There are vague clues that you should have empathy for the mystery man, but since it is unclear how he fits in and why he’s there it’s impossible to root for him.
The young daughter is obviously an innocent bystander in all of this mess, but a poor casting choice by director Jennifer Chambers makes the majority of her actions seem off. It is brought up on more than one occasion that the daughter wears Huggies, and the mother’s pregnancy is mentioned as being four years previous. Which would lead one to believe that the daughter is somewhere between three and four years old. However, the young girl cast in the role is a third grader. So her scripted actions, which wouldn’t seem odd for a three year old, are very odd when a nine year old is doing them. There are huge developmental jumps between those ages, so having an older child act like a three to four year old makes her seem developmentally slow at times. Normally this is something that I would try to overlook, as I can completely understand not wanting to work with a three year old in a live theater production. However, as the daughter plays such a pivotal role in the events of the story the miscasting stands out.
There are several good performances in the production. Eric Hunicutt and Trent Dawson are easily believable as brothers with bad blood between them and you will love to hate Beverly Hynds as the cold-hearted wife. The set by Joel Daavid is beautiful and sets the scene perfectly in the Pacific Palisades. Unfortunately, these are not enough to make up for what is lacking in the script.
*Coverage provided for the Culver City News