Pain-Itch_7by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

God I hate these people.  They’re funny and ridiculous and frivolous, mean-spirited and so self-important. When justice is finally served I can’t wait to not feel bad for them…all except for the kid of course. The innocent. And she’s the only one. That is all I could think, as the show labored on like an ox plow cutting through icy mud.

It was absolutely funny. It was ironic. Emotionally out of control at every turn and on every level. It was manic. It was all over the place.  (I’m also betting that many of us have experienced holiday events with our own families just like this one, which is what makes the story seem almost believable.)

Then there were the entirely racist dialogs; the upper middle class mediocrity set in the faux expensive Malibu surroundings;the slinging of multi-syllabic vocabulary used as weaponry against the enemy in the room aka the pretty girl; the nonchalantness of despising the foreign and the poor and feeling a melodramatic “everyone should eat” sympathy for them — from afar, of course. The socialism versus capitalism, Democrat versus Republican drones, the forgetful but jolly mother who takes sides with one son over another, competition and spitefulness between brothers, easy coffee-clutch revelations about horrifying nothings that almost happened and horrifying things that really did and are being ignored, and of course the eastern european “foil” who calls out all of their bullshit…but good.  “You should have some perceptive about these things,” she keeps mistakenly, “stupidly” saying. What she means is perspective.  And none of these characters have it, about practically anything.

What a holy hell mess.  This family is so irredeemable.

But oh, the eventual confessions, rapturing one after another like notes in a Mozart orchestration, enough to make your head spin. Embracing the long awaited relief in the lighthearted laughable declarations of adultery, porn lust and loathing, money, guilt, rape, and supposed horrible upbringings. All finger-pointing down to why one little girl has a mysterious itchy, skin condition and the possibility of abuse or molestation.  Inconceivably, everyone at some point is ok with it, lying about it, and brushing it under the rug to save their own skin, which is frankly, unbelievable.

Bruce Norris’ current revival of The Pain and the Itch, directed by Jennifer Chambers, now playing at the Zephyr Theatre until December 1st, is a vicious satyrical mashup of stereotypes, lies, dishonesty and modern family role reversal that runs the gamut of the comedic emotional spectrum to tell a virtually simple story of infidelity and consequence.

It may seem, at first that this play strays far and wide in the extraordinary long unfolding.  Not so.  What is happening imperceptibly in front of our eyes through an out-of-bounds, incessant, bickering, is a shadow box of deception from all of the characters, who go to lengths to create an elaborate ruse for an immigrant man who is about to sue the family for the wrongful death of his wife, the non-English speaking, family maid, who steals bread from the kitchen one day and whose name is blurted out to the authorities on the telephone during the most outlandish family holiday “episode” of violent selfishness.

None of these people are likable. There is not one exception, save the little girl, who is never given a voice. There is a major casualty in this play, aka the unseen maid, whose husband this family is attempting to charm. However, the real victim is the daughter, although laughably every person claims to be one here, in some way or another. And, there is so much blame going on and a lack of listening altogether, which allows each of them to remain in their respective delusions.

It doesn’t fly at all.  And yet it does.  The whole story is preposterous. And yet, very real.  People do behave this way.  We recognize that. But in the telling of The Pain and the Itch, there is a certain non-reality that keeps the audience a bit distant from it.  Overall, it is an exciting albeit chaotic show which reveals the ugliness of people within the hilarity of all of their excuse making, oversimplifications and very modern, not so flattering attitudes about themselves and everyone else.

“We want you to see us for who we really are.” — Oh we do!  Really we do!

The Pain and the Itch, is worth the ticket even if a bit fragmented and heavy at times. Twisted and absurd.


Starring: April Adams, Ava Bianchi, Trent Dawson, Kiara Lisette Gamboa, Joe Holt, Eric Honicutt, Beverly Hynds and Beth Triffon.

Zephyr Theatre
7456 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles
8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays
Ends Dec. 1, 2013
Tickets: $25; (323) 960-5774
Running time: 2 hours