Bruce Norris's play The Pain and the Itch is a social satire about Western liberal hypocrisy. It was originally commissioned by the Philadelphia Theatre Company and received its world premiere at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago, on 30 June 2005.
The play is set in a handsomely appointed apartment in an unnamed American city. The apartment belongs to an apparently contented young couple: stay-at-home dad Clay and his high-flying lawyer wife Kelly. The play takes place in two separate time frames, at two gatherings spliced together for dramatic effect. One is a Thanksgiving holiday dinner, at which Clay and Kelly are joined by Clay's plastic-surgeon brother Cash, his Eastern European girlfriend Kalina, and Clay's mother Carol. During the dinner it is revealed that Clay and Kelly’s toddler daughter Kayla is suffering from an uncomfortable genital rash of unknown and possibly sinister cause. This discovery leads, through a chain of anxiety and coincidence, to the second gathering, at which the family tries to explain to a taxi driver, Mr. Hadid, just how the disturbing news of Kayla’s affliction led to the tragedy that has upended his life.
The Steppenwolf production was directed by Anna D. Shapiro and designed by Dan Ostling (set) and Janice Pytel (costumes). It was performed by James Vincent Meredith, Mariann Mayberry, Zak Orth, Lillan Almaguer, Darragh Quinn Dolan, Tracy Letts, Kate Arrington and Jane Houdyshell.
The play received its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons on 1 September 2006 in a production directed by Anna D. Shapiro.
It was first performed in the UK at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, London, on 14 June 2007 in a production directed by Dominic Cooke, his inaugural production as Artistic Director of the theatre. The production was designed by Robert Innes Hopkins and performed by Abdi Gouhad, Matthew Macfadyen, Sara Stewart, Hannah Gunn, Shannon Kelly, Angelica Trew, Peter Sullivan, Andrea Riseborough and Amanda Boxer.