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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Pain and the Itch
Royal Court Theatre      Summer 2007

Bruce Norris's comedy, previously seen in Chicago and New York, is a satirical dissection of the American equivalents to Britain's champagne socialists - well-to-do suburbanites who eat whole grains, support public television, ban war toys for their children and rail against the Republicans while inadequately disguising their own racism, classism and xenophobia, not to mention individual and marital failings.

It is frequently very dark in its humour, and as frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

The play opens with husband and wife Clay and Kelly describing to a clearly foreign-born visitor the events of a recent Thanksgiving day, with much of the play made up of flashbacks to that occasion.

In some ways it is archetypal, with the forced intimacy of a family reunion reawakening old pains and resentments, between Clay and his brother Cash, between each of them and their mother, between Clay and Kelly as hosts and Cash and his Eastern European girlfriend Kayla as guests, and eventually between just about everyone and everyone else in all permutations.

There's a lot of comedy in this, but also the uneasiness that comes from an Ayckbournish examination of the fault lines so barely covered by a polite surface.

And, as you might have guessed, that outsider to whom the story is being told proves the catalyst to a final exposure of just how very hypocritical they all are and how blind they are to their own corruption.

Had a British author written this, it might be dismissed as just another bit of America-bashing. But Norris brings not only the authority of an American but the insight that there is darkness not only in the easy target of the American right, but also among the self-proclaimed liberals.

This is not primarily a political play, but it has a lot to say about the self-deception of those who pay lip service to all the politically correct shibboleths.

Dominic Cooke directs with a light hand that lets the play's points make themselves without forcing them. Matthew Macfadyen as Clay, Peter Sullivan as Cash and Amanda Boxer as their mother lead a strong cast.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  The Pain And The Itch - Royal Court Theatre 2007
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