Friday, October 21, 2011

The Pain and The Itch (Third Rail B-)

by Bruce Norris
directed by Slayden Scott-Yarbough

Mr Hadid  .....   John San Nicholas
Kelly   .......   Valerie Stevens
Clay   .......   Damon Kupper
Cash   .....   Duffy Epstein
Kalina   .......   Amy Beth Frankel
Carol     .......   Jacklyn Maddux

sez says:  Here is a bunch of good actors caught up in a play not worthy of their talents. I would like to see other works by this playwright but this one fell short for me in numerous places.

When you can't find anyone in a story that you can like --or identify with-- it suggests to me a problem. I'm not by any means suggesting characters have to be, or should be stellar individuals. In fact, I think characters need flaws to be realistic.  That makes us (the audience) able to forgive them (and maybe forgive ourselves in the process) for having human imperfections. But to have an entire line-up of characters who are not just flawed--but who are hard to like--makes me wonder what the playwright is trying to accomplish.

The characters are:

Mr Hadid..a third world person--he could have been from any part of the third world, a man who has come to America so his family can have a better life and whose wife has died as a result of ..... ( don't want to spoil the story entirely)  He is a watcher as our 'family' acts out its dysfunctions. He knows what America means to the world's poor. He is too kind, decent and smart to be believed. He is a straw man USED in the play to make a point..but he is not a real person.

KELLY--a woman who gets what she wants via the manipulation of political correctness. She has highly developed verbal skills which she attacks people and demonstrates little to no humanity toward anyone.

CLAY -- Kelly's husband, who is, in general, an incompetent, whose only function in life is to attempt to please others but who is holding roiling anger and frustration at bay. He is still engaged in childish anger at his mother and sibling rivalry with his brother--but even in the face of a serious health problem that his daughter has he hasn't taken her to the doctor.

CASH - Clay's brother, who has a sexy very young girlfriend and who is generally caustic to most everyone all the time. He jealous of his brother. He has probably betrayed his brother in adulthood. He stole his brother's toys when he was young.  He mistreats his young girlfriend.

KALINA: Cash's girlfriend --a super sexy East European woman who was abused by soldiers before leaving her country, who mirrors the worst of our culture's commodification of women -- who is a racist and an Anti-Semite -- who knows why third world people want to come to America--and who comes as close as anyone to being a sympathetic character--but who too easily fits into all the negative aspects of the culture she embraces.

KAYLA-- Clay and Kelly's daughter -- a little girl with no lines...who has a medical problem and is not an actual character in the play--but is more a point of reference.

CAROL mother to Clay and Cash -- a ditsy older woman--who mouth's platitudes --watches PBS and doesn't understand the material presented there, who espouses socialism and diversity but who doesn't seem to know what either of these things might actually mean. She is non-judgmental in all she says --but her actions suggest that the actual judgments she makes are insidious in their effects.

ok--so some good points are made when this crowd engages -- such as, people with wealth often feel guilty about their wealth and mouth concern for the less fortunate but given the possibility of losing that wealth they might do anything;  that giving "your children" "advantages" means that some other child ends up with less advantage.  That claiming family is what matters to you has to have content for it to be real--and if you haven't gotten over what happened to you at age ten you may have a negative experience of how  'family matters' in your current life.  But even with these issues spinning about--it was hard to care about these people

--and as the last line of the play says "How do we stop this?" --well you start to stop this by presenting more realistic characters, engaged in behaviors we can recognize, and let them point us in a helpful direction. Rather than having a bunch of miscreants trying to outdo each other is a story that aims only to criticize--and look down on the people it presents.

Meanwhile there is really good acting here--and even with my criticisms -- I would recommend people see it because it can make us talk about what the theater can do and what we want it to do.

mjc says:  there were times during the play when a particular misbehavior by one of the characters, or a misbehavior described by one of the characters resonated with my own experience of myself and others, but the story never coalesced into a gripping and realistic experience of what a family in 2008 might have experienced together, and, more vitally, how to find our way ahead together.

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