Scratching an ‘Itch’ You Hate to Have


Courtesy of Walter Wlodarczyk

NYU professor Alexandra Zelman-Doring shines in “The Itch.”

Hailey Nuthals, Editor-at-Large

One of the unpleasant realities of life and art is that no matter how much you try, there will always be some things you do not quite get. Not in the sense that linear algebra evades your understanding, but in that someone who has never moved from their childhood home will not understand the rootlessness of someone who moved five times before finishing high school. In Throes Theater’s production of “The Itch,” a two-act play put on at the New Ohio Theatre, the plot focuses around one such selective theme — the tenuous relationship between an alcoholic and the person who cares for them the most.

“The Itch” follows Ana (NYU professor and playwright Alexandra Zelman-Doring) and her twin brother Simon (Gore Abrams). Simon staggers in and out of scenes with a manic fervor. He is constantly either recovering from or slipping into his latest bender. Ana dances around him, using everything from pantyhose bindings to tuna sandwiches to placate her brother into staying with her and staying sober.

Thanks to clever set construction, smart use of both diegetic and nondiegetic music and strongly crafted dialogue, the plot never falters. Abrams and Zelman-Doring flawlessly inhabit the characters and the world of the play, two adults struggling to live up to their wealthy parents’ expectations with floundering songwriting and even dodgier self-sufficiency. The humor in the script is dry, wry and absolutely hilarious. “The Itch” never bores or disappoints.

But perhaps unfortunately, its emotional complexity is inaccessible to those who have never suffered the pain of having an alcoholic loved one. The comings and goings, the way they let you down — breaking their own heart as much as yours — and the desperate attempts to take any small moment of sobriety as a sign of progress — these are lost upon the uninitiated.

This lack of accessibility qualifies as perhaps unfortunate because no one would ever wish the pain of that knowledge upon their enemy — or they should not. Still, lacking that understanding would almost certainly make Ana’s unending attempts to support her brother, going so far as to sell her own eggs to a fertility clinic as a way to pay for her brother’s rehab (the kind that rock stars get, so he will not get bored), inexplicable. Zelman-Doring’s gut-wrenching performance would seem dramatized past the point of drama without context. Abrams would seem like a poorly-done version of a junior-high health class commerical against underage drinking. Their final resolution in the closing scene would be jarring at least. At most, it would be unsatisfying.

To those in the ingroup, “The Itch” is an incredible recreation of the very itch that alcoholism never allows its victims to scratch. Like bed bug bites that never go away or withdrawal symptoms that never stop, it is engaging and demands its audience’s attention. The worst criticism one could level against it is the lack of relatability due to its themes of alcoholism and familial strife, which is hardly a bad thing.

“The Itch” played at the New Ohio Theater from Sept. 1-16.

Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected].