That would include all the members of this self-consciously progressive white family, gathered for an unfortunate Thanksgiving dinner: insecure house-husband Clay (comically gifted Justin Gillman) and his tightly wound wife, Kelly (Karen Offereins, with just the right degree of passive-aggressive hostility); the couple’s silent little girl, Kayla (an adorable Gabriella Jarvie); Clay’s arrogant doctor brother, Cash (a smirky Peter Townley, and yes, the endlessly feuding brothers are named Cassius and Clay); and the brothers’ mother, Carol (Jean Forsman, sometimes over the top, other times exactly right as an annoyingly perky chatterbox).
It also includes two outsiders: Cash’s flamboyantly sexy, Eastern European-immigrant girlfriend, Kalina (a nicely layered portrayal by Eden Neuendorf), and a quietly watchful man (a calm and mesmerizing Dorian Lockett) whose presence is increasingly mystifying: Is he a marriage counselor? Lawyer? Judge of some sort? Is he a figment of the family’s collective imagination?
The itch is both physical and in a way psychic, too.
In addition to the mysterious visitor, Norris weaves many other tantalizing puzzles and riddles into the nonlinear plot.
The family’s ostensible, immediate problem: Is there an animal — a raccoon, a weasel — hiding in the house? Avocados with bites taken out of them have been found, and Clay, desperate to trap the elusive critter, runs around wielding blunt instruments.
Other concerns: Is the (unseen) immigrant maid stealing things
? What is the source of little Kayla’s vaginal infection?
Why do the two brothers hate each other so much, and why is Clay and Kelly’s marriage such a mess?
In addition to exposing ugly family dysfunction, Norris, whose “Clybourne Park” (seen locally at American Conservatory Theater) won a Pulitzer Prize, examines some of the same social issues in “The Pain,” an earlier play — particularly the relationship between the haves (specifically, smugly liberal, affluent and hypocritical middle classes) and the have-nots (in this case, immigrants, and the haves’ assumptions about them).
And as in “Clybourne Park,” that examination, humorous as it is, can get downright cringe-inducing.
The play takes just the right amount of theatrical time to reveal the intricate links among all its mysteries, and under Dale Albright’s direction, and with a strong cast, the action is crisp and focused throughout.
The Pain and the Itch
Presented by Custom Made Theatre Company
Where: Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 9
Tickets: $15 to $35
Contact: (415) 798-2682, www.custommade.org