Of all our national traits good and bad, none seems quite as entrenched and endemic as our feigned interest in anyone but ourselves. This is the consumerist, liberal morass in which Bruce Norris has set “The Pain and the Itch,” his comedic teeth-gnasher about bobos quickly losing their hold on paradise. It comes on the heels of Rebecca Gilman’s similarly themed “Dollhouse” (currently at the Goodman), and the comparisons are inevitable. Both take place in stylishly modern, upper-middleclass condos where the help is foreign, the children impeccably cute and the talk unctuous. What Gilman captures so expertly, however, is a sense of momentum. That’s precisely what’s missing in the Norris play, which feels spotted with stagnant pools of plot. Told mostly through flashback—delineated with care and precision by director Anna D. Shapiro—stay-at-home-dad Clay (Zak Orth) and his brittle wife Kelly (Mariann Mayberry) seem desperate to explain themselves to a visitor, a North African-born cab driver named Mr. Hadid. Just why this couple recounts the events of a recent Thanksgiving dinner is revealed only at the play’s end. In the meantime, Norris constructs an elliptical series of conversations and social debates that expose the speakers as well-intentioned sanctimonious blowhards. “I feel sorry for people out there,” Clay says to Mr. Hadid. “These people without kids.” Smug bastard. He gets his due, as does everyone else who ventures into the home. Norris scores acidic blows left and right—his humor is unsparing. But as the narrative draws to a close, you’re left with a numbing sensation that it was all for naught. Where’s the pain? Where’s the itch? (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.