BWW Reviews: THE PAIN AND THE ITCH Presents the Worst Thanksgiving Ever
Worst. Thanksgiving. Ever. A family gathering to celebrate the iconic American holiday turns into a scathing indictment of phony liberal values in THE PAIN AND THE ITCH by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Bruce Norris (Clybourne Park), through December 1 at the Zephyr Theatre.
Director Jennifer Chambers sets the revival of this outrageous, irreverent and subversively funny satire about the politics of class and race in the Pacific Palisades, the land of palm trees, ocean views and resplendent neighborhoods.
Eric Hunicutt and Beverly Hynds star as Clay and Kelly, who, with their perfect house and two perfect children, seem to have it all. That is, until Clay's mother, Carol, a self-proclaimed socialist (April Adams), his staunch Republican brother, Cash (Trent Dawson), and Cash's young Eastern European girlfriend Kalina (Beth Triffon) arrive for Thanksgiving dinner.
With youngster Kayla (Kiara Lisette Gamboa, sharing the role with Ava Bianchi) in serious need of medical attention and a ravenous creature possibly prowling the upstairs bedrooms after gnawing on an avocado on the kitchen table, what begins as an average Thanksgiving for this privileged family devolves into absolute chaos - the repercussions of which resonate so far and wide that they profoundly change the life of a total stranger, Mr. Hadid (Joe Holt).
"The great thing about Bruce Norris' plays is that they deal with both the personal and the political," says Chambers. "The situations he creates are tense and troubling, but also hilarious and true. He turns our perceptions completely upside down."
Chambers, who has two children of her own, continues, "On the surface, Clay and Kelly seem like unlikeable people, but I also relate to how hard they're trying to be good parents. When our children are born they seem so pure that we will go to any lengths to protect that innocence."
Wickedly funny and deeply insightful, this contemporary examination of American ideals is as shocking as it is socially relevant. However, the plot moves back and forth in time and was a bit confusing to follow as at times it seemed no one could see Joe Holt, yet at other times individual characters could see and speak with him. While the actors all do a fine job, there are no likeable characters, so it is a bit difficult to care what happens to any of them. Clay is a house-husband addicted to porn, nothing is good enough for Kelly, Kayla runs around screaming at the top of her lungs, Cash is a an egotist who loves pushing his brother's buttons, and Carol is forgetful of details but manages to spew epithets against all races. You feel sorry for Kalina, getting caught up with all these crazies and poor Mr. Hadid who only seems concerned about what things cost. Of course it turns out he has good reason to wonder as he wants his piece of the action.
There is a lovely realistic set designed by Joel Daavid, made up almost entirely of shades oF Brown and beige, and lighting designed by Ric Zimmerman that shifts as the story moves between time periods or dream sequences.
One thing for sure, you will walk out of the theater thinking your own family is not so bad after all.
THE PAIN AND THE ITCH
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Jennifer Chambers
Starring April Adams, Ava Bianchi, Trent Dawson, Kiara Lisette Gamboa, Joe Holt, Eric Hunnicutt, Beverly Hynds, Beth Triffon
Produced by Racquel Lehrman, Theatre Planners
Presented by Wilder Theatrics
Performances: Oct. 26 - Dec. 1
Fridays @ 8 p.m.: Oct. 25 (preview); Nov. 1, 8, 15, 22 (dark Nov. 29)
Saturdays @ 8 p.m.: Oct. 26 (opening); Nov. 2, 9. 16. 23. 30
Sundays @ 7 p.m.: Oct. 27; Nov. 3, 10, 17, 24; Dec. 1
7456 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(between Fairfax and La Brea)
General Admission: $25
Students with ID: $15
(323) 960-5774 or www.plays411.com/pain