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Theater review: 'The Pain and the Itch' at Boston Court

July 30, 2009 |  4:00 pm

Pain1 

In “The Pain and the Itch,” now at Boston Court, playwright Bruce Norris succeeds in getting under the audience’s skin. The drama, a baleful look at an upscale white family afflicted with a kind of spiritual and ethical scabies, blends satire with realism in a finger-pointing manner that definitely isn’t out to win prizes for congeniality. 

Every time you think these cringe-inducing characters can’t descend any lower, they discover a new mucky bottom. All credit, then, to this co-production between the Theatre @ Boston Court and Furious Theatre Company, directed by Dámaso Rodriguez, for not slipping into monstrous caricature. Even when we’re laughing derisively, we can’t help recognizing patterns in hypocrisy, denial, narcissism and greed.
       
Thanksgiving is here, and meek and mild Clay (Brad Price) has gathered his nearest and dearest to his impressive home (tastefully conjured by scenic designer Kurt Boetcher). In attendance, naturally, are his ticked-off wife, Kelly (Vonessa Martin ), carting their baby in her stylish papoose, and squealing toddler daughter Kayla (Ava Feldman at the reviewed performance), whose alarming genital rash has given rise to the play’s title. This little domestic unit has all the trappings of the good life and none of the contentment that’s supposed to go with it -- something that can't entirely be blamed on the mysterious avocado-eating rodent that's apparently invaded the premises.

Pain2 Clay’s brash plastic surgeon brother, Cash (Scott Lowell), has brought along his vibrantly tacky Eastern European girlfriend (Katie Marie Davies,) a relationship not exactly based on mutual respect. And Clay and Cash’s politically incorrect (and mindlessly PBS-worshiping) mom (Jennifer Rhodes) is also visiting, which allows us to speculate on the origins of these adult sons’ antithetically dysfunctional temperaments.  

Not at the holiday dinner though standing on the theatrical sidelines is Mr. Hadid (Kevin Vavasseur), who watches a reenactment of what occurred on that fateful November day, in which a family’s festering grievances wound up altering his own life. The structuring of this broader story isn’t smooth and the staging doesn’t help matters, but Norris’ ambition to connect the venality and vitriol of one American household with the moral un-mooring of the nation is laudably ambitious.
 
Bruising and biting, “The Pain and the Itch” is more neatly plotted than need be. Many of the shocking revelations that emerge seem obvious by the time they’re finally unveiled. Rodriguez should have picked up the pace in the last half hour, though hats off to his cast for making the increasingly farcical momentum as plausibly malicious as possible.  

-- Charles McNulty

"The Pain and the Itch," Boston Court Performing Arts Center, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 23. $27 to $32. (626) 683-6883. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

Top: Brad Price, Vonessa Martin, Scott Lowell, Katie Marie Davies, and Kevin Vavasseur. Bottom: Price and Lowell.  Credit: Ed Krieger/Boston Court

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