Tuesday, November 19, 2013


“What goes around comes around” may be a theme on more than one level with the current production of Bruce Norris's  The Pain and the Itch currently playing at The Zephyr on Melrose.  The slip sliding of time is a theme in Harold Pinter’s  1978 drama Betrayal currently revived on Broadway.  The fierce sniping of Albee’s Virginia Woolf also snakes through Norris’s well crafted two act drama.  A comparison is inevitable. Norris is in good company.  The play begins rather at the end,  wending its way through flashbacks (Ric Zimmerman’s lighting on Joel Daavid’s well designed set adds to the mix) to a sad resolution.  Originally produced by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 2005, at that time set in New York City, director Jennifer Chambers sets the play in the toney L.A. neighborhood of Pacific Palisades.  The issues of success, gender roles and social class clash.  Thanksgiving with little to be thankful for runs amok.  
Left to right:  Katilin Huwe, Alec Tomkin, Sally Schaub, Beverly Hynds, Christopher Guyton, Eric Hunicutt,
Miss Ava Bianchi  Photo by Michael Sheehan

Mr. Hadid, a large dark skinned man (Christopher Guyton) weeps… sobs on the stylish sofa in the well appointed home of Clay and Kelly (Eric Hunicutt and Beverly Hynds). Clay is uncomfortable and sympathetic.  As Mr. Hadid composes himself, his interest in how much things cost inches us toward understanding.  Then, Clay tells the story in flashbacks as to how events have come to pass.  The story unfolds.  Sibling rivalry, a mysterious malaise, strong characters well acted emerge.

Full disclosure: I wanted to see the Sunday performance of this play because a friend is an alternate in the cast and was going on that night.  Also, in our Los Angeles theatre community, there are probably hundreds of dedicated actors who agree to do a show standing by and seldom get the attention they deserve.  The four alternates in Sunday’s show brought the play to life:  Guyton as Mr. Hadid, Alec Tomkin as Cash, Katilin Huwe as Kalina and Sally Schaub as Carol.  Miss Ava Bianchi plays Kayla (not an alternate, but sharing the role.)

A special anxiety having to do with jealousy, social class and guilt seems to be Norris’s goal and director Chambers brings home not only these discomfiting issues, but finds resolution as her actors immerse themselves deeply into the conceit that we are human beings; we make mistakes and are not always capable of fixing them.

Norris puts his characters through difficult paces.  Sally Schaub as Carol is the mother of Cash and Clay.  “No wonder two boys would fight whose names were Cassius and Clay!”  Her beautiful straight blonde hair and bangs reflect another time as does her dialogue with Mr. Hadid regarding watching PBS. She may be what some might term a socialist.  Parenting is difficult at best as we see in her grand-mothering of Kayla and her being soundly criticized by Clay because she always liked Cash best. The conflict between Cash and Clay bubbles in snipes and shouts.  Clay is a stay-at-home dad while spouse Kelly is the go-to-work mom with a new baby on her breast who has her own conflicted issues.  Her four year old daughter romps through the house being chased by Cash’s sexy nineteen year old playmate (Kaitlin Huwe with a strong Eastern European accent, excellent timing and too much the truth, eh?). This lays the ground work for an Albee-esque battle that expands to the mystery of the gnawed upon avocado.

The play is an actor’s dream.  Every character is singular and complexly designed to make the audience do some self examination regarding gender roles, success, morals and prejudice.  The Pain and The Itch are more than just physical symptoms. They are indications of the attitude to which each of us may set our own personal compass and sail off into our lives.

By Bruce Norris
Zephyr Theatre
7456 Melrose
Los Angeles, CA 90046
Through December 1, 2013
Tickets and Information:
323 960 5774
General Admission $25.00
Students  $15.00

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