Monday, November 5, 2012

The Pain and the Itch, Capital T Theatre at Hyde Park Theatre, October 25 - November 17

AustinLiveTheatre reviewThe Pain and the Itch Bruce Norris Capital T

by Michael Meigs

Mark Pickell has an eye for mordant black humor, so Capital T's productions fit perfectly into Ken Webster's Hyde Park Theatre -- both into that odd and intimate space and into the ironic, brash, better-than-hip ethos of the place. If you like Ken's stuff, you'll love Mark's. And a further lure: the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago has premiered the last seven works of this playwright.

Bruce Norris' savage deadpan flaying of the earnest American upper middle class in The Pain and the Itch is more than mere satire, though. It's a paradox wrapped in an enigma presented in one of Ia Esterä's exquisitely imagined box sets. In the guise of a family visit to attorney Kelly and her house-husband Clay at Thanksgiving time, Norris serves up at least two mysteries: what is that reserved Middle Eastern taxi-driver doing in this American home? And what is the malady of adorable five-year-old daughter Kayla that Cash the pediatrician surgeon brother-in-law is called to investigate and at the same time to conceal?

I missed the staging of this 2005 play when the University of Texas MFA program did it in a April, 2011, followed immediately by Norris's Clybourne Park (which was later awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize and the 2012 Tony for best play).

The arc is from the squabbling of grown siblings to the disconnects of incomprehension, television, clashes of culture, accidents, victims and deceit. Norris writes with a scalpel whetted to such a fine edge that at first one doesn't realize the depth and damage of his adroit strokes as he dissects the bland, blind conceits of this all-American family.

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