The pain of creating 'The Pain and the Itch'
Director Damaso Rodriguez knew he was facing certain challenges with “The Pain and the Itch,” set to open at Theatre @ Boston Court on July 25. Bruce Norris’ intricate satire of blue state bad manners requires a major role for a child actor, an extensive set and the use of video. But the Furious Theatre Company artistic director never anticipated that staging a play could feel so much like shooting a movie.
“Pain” takes place in two time periods: It starts in January, as an affluent liberal family tells their mysterious dinner guest, Mr. Hadid, about what happened on the previous Thanksgiving. “As they start to explain, the play transforms into Thanksgiving,” says Rodriguez. “But every so often, Mr. Hadid interrupts the action and the play pops back to January. Yet Mr. Hadid never leaves the room.”
It’s not unusual for two moments of time to exist simultaneously on stage — theater would be
pretty dull without simultaneity. But “Pain” lives up to its title, because of the show’s realistic unit set. Time travel is trickier where people drink real beverages and fold real napkins. “Every choice you make in terms of staging could come back to haunt you,” Rodriguez says. “It’s just like the continuity when you’re making a film. At one point Mr. Hadid interrupts the story and is offered a glass of juice. Then you switch back to Thanksgiving, where there was no juice. Then you switch back to January, and that juice needs to magically appear on stage.”
(Don’t even get him started on the subject of costume changes.)
Norris specifically calls for subtle cues to distinguish the two time periods, but don’t expect any “Law and Order” chu-chings. “The playwright goes out of his way to tell you not to enhance the time changes. I appreciate that. He trusts the audience.” Rodriguez admits that he didn’t understand what was happening in the play the first time he read it — although he hopes theatergoers watching the action will find it easier to catch on.
“At first the audience may not realize what’s happening. But then you get caught up in the story and can’t wait to find out how all the pieces fit together — which they do, brilliantly, in the end. Part of the play’s theme is how people don’t see what’s right in front of them.”
Read more about how Rodriguez solved the problems of “Pain” in Sunday's Arts & Books section or by clicking here.
-- Charlotte Stoudt
Photo: From left, Scott Lowell, Olivia Aaron, Jennifer Rhodes, Damaso Rodriguez. Credit: Eric Pargac