Halloween may be over, which means that the truly terrifying holiday is upon us: Thanksgiving. It's that dreaded holiday where we have to break bread and socialize with our family, pretending to like them despite how excruciating we may find them to be. It's fitting then that Capital T Theatre should present THE PAIN AND THE ITCH, a dramatic comedy about a family whose secrets unravel on Thanksgiving night.
No family dramatic comedy would be complete without a company of misfits, and THE PAIN AND THE ITCH certainly has a delightful motley crew. Clay, played to perfection by Benjamin Summers, is the stay at home dad who struggles to keep his family afloat while dealing with his deep rooted resentments towards his wife and his brother. Liz Fisher is fantastic as Clay's wife, Kelly, whose passive aggressive personality quickly descends into downright bitchiness. Kenneth Wayne Bradley provides Clay's brother, Cash, with a confidence and certainty that no one else in the family seems to have, turning him into a welcome contrast to the rest of the ensemble, and Indigo Rael gives a hysterical turn as Kalina, Cash's young Russian immigrant girlfriend. Rounding out the cast are the captivating Lana Dieterich as Carol, the family matriarch who seems to be developing Alzheimer's, J. Ben Wolfe as the mysterious Mr. Hadid, and the adorable Sadie Dragoo as Clay and Kelly's daughter, Kayla.
Director Mark Pickell certainly has fun playing with the quirky beats in the text. Some moments are hysterical and laugh-out-loud funny while others are shocking and stop your heart. Regardless of the intent or purpose of each moment, they all ring true and affect the audience, quite a tough feat for a dramatic comedy.
Unfortunately, despite the innumerable talents of the cast and director, the show does have some trouble spots, mainly because of the text itself. Bruce Norris's play tries to do too much. It's a family drama. It's a comedy. It's a social/political satire. It's about racism. It's about a crumbling marriage. It's about sibling rivalry. It's about the holier-than-thou attitude of the upper-middle class. It's about far too much, and by the end of the evening it feels a bit unfocused and without a strong purpose or point. The text is like sitting down to a beautifully decorated Thanksgiving table featuring turkey, cranberries, wine, stuffing, pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes, but no gravy.
Yet despite its few flaws, THE PAIN AND THE ITCH is an engaging, enjoyable piece of theater. While the writing may have problems and while we've seen plays about decaying families before, it's rare that an ensemble this strong gets to tackle the topic. THE PAIN AND THE ITCH will certainly be one of the most memorable Thanksgivings you will ever have.
Run time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. Recommended for adult audiences only.
THE PAIN AND THE ITCH, produced by Capital T Theatre, plays the Hyde Park Theatre at 511 West 43rd St, Austin, Texas. Performances are Thursdays –Saturdays at 8pm, now thru November 17th. Tickets are $20-$30. For tickets and information, visit www.capitalt.org.