The Pain and the Itch is the story of Clay (Brad Price), a stay at home dad who is charged with explaining /conveying an incident that unfolded somewhere in the recent past, to his maid’s husband, Mr. Hadid (Kevin Vavasseur). With wife Kelly (Vonessa Martin) by his side, the couple try to appear to go out of their way to make Hadid comfortable during the telling of their tale, while also managing a fussy newborn son and their four year old daughter Kayla (Olivia Aaron).
The remembrance is of a holiday dinner and quasi-reunion for the successful but fragmented family. Clay invites his cheerful, yet forgetful mother Carol (Jennifer Rhodes) whose cornerstone of conversation is the programming on PBS, though she can never remember the exact details of which actor or complete historical context of the program she found so fascinating. Clay’s older brother, plastic surgeon Cash (Scott Lowell) attends the dinner with heavily-Slavic-accented Kalina (Katie Marie Davies), Cash’s flavor of the month who seriously lacks any command on the English language and is completely enamored with little daughter Kayla (Olivia Aaron).
As the evening wears on, the same old friction in their relationships begin to nag. Cash digs at Clay for not embracing his wealth and privilege. Clay and Kelly continually stop Kalina from playing with Kayla in all the wrong ways (shoot ‘em up, putting on make-up) Carol, between making a good peace between her sons, prattles on idly with comments that illuminate her narrow, privileged life perspective. Clay tries desperately to prove that he is a competent father with the swift and effectiveness resolution of the mystery of the seemingly inhuman bites found in the dinner table avocado. And through it all, little Kayla rubs at her private parts in her pull-ups and Mr. Hadid observes it all invisible.
The Pain and the Itch is not your garden variety dramedy of family dysfunction, as it might appear on the surface. On the contrary, this latest effort by playwright Bruce Norris is a subtle dark comedy that steadily, unsuspectingly turns black, twisted and unsettling. It is a play that slowly, masterfully peels back to layers of each character to exposing painful, human imperfections, with the produce of their collective sins literally festering in their midst. Norris crafts a story which features a hodgepodge of diametrically opposing personalities, that ultimately fall into tragically neat simpatico, with each life inescapably bound to the other. The shifting of time was ingenious in its invention. Marked by a change in the lighting and the snow falling outside the window, it effectively interrupts the narrative to assert comedy and the present.
The casting for The Pain and the Itch was superb. Vonessa Martin’s performance as Kelly truly impressive in its duplicity and range. Scott Lowell and Brad Price performances volley between a pitch perfect campaign of sibling rivalry and individually self-loathing. Jennifer Rhodes portrays her character with a distinctly identifiable combination of matriarchal charm and elderly oblivion. Katie Marie Davies is the perfect audience surrogate, constantly one step behind the biting exchanges of the family members, yet spot on with her simplicity, and deeply ironic observations that perhaps only an outsider to the situation can make. Kevin Vavassuer’s Mr. Hadid is the mostly silent observer and the embodiment of dignity. Truly Well Done.
The Pain and The Itch, directed by Dámaso Rodriguez, a co-production with The Theatre @ Boston Court runs July 25 - August 23, 2009 at:
Boston Court Performing Arts Center
70 North Mentor Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91106
Box Office: 626-683-6883
Photos by: Ed Krieger