Norris, Bruce 1960-

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Norris, Bruce 1960-


Born 1960. Education: Northwestern University, B.A., 1982.


Writer, actor, and playwright. Appeared in Broadway productions, including Biloxi Blues and in many off-Broadway productions. Actor in films, including School of Rock, The Sixth Sense, and Homecoming.


Purple Heart; and The Infidel: Two Plays, foreword by John Guare, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2005.

The Pain and the Itch, produced in Chicago, IL, 2006.

The Unmentionables, produced in Chicago, IL, 2006.

Also author of the plays We All Went down to Amsterdam, The Actor Retires, and The Vanishing Twin.


Playwright Bruce Norris, who holds a degree in theater from Northwestern University, has appeared as an actor in many Broadway and off-Broadway productions. "As an artist who has a significant acting career, Norris possesses an innate understanding of theatrical discourse," observed biographer Margot Bordelon on the Steppenwolf Theater Web site. With his acting background informing his dramatic works, Norris is adept at advancing the story without giving it away. "In all of his plays, Norris feeds the audience just enough clues about his characters and their circumstances to leave us hungry for more," Bordelon remarked.

Norris's play The Infidel tells the story of Garvey, a once-respected Illinois Supreme Court Judge whose rejection by a younger woman unhinged him and turned him into a stalker. Reviewer Chris Jones, writing in Variety, called The Infidel an "incisive, potentially powerful play." As the play unfolds, the drama centers on whether Garvey, in jail for his crimes, should be released and allowed back into society. A former friend must sit in judgment of Garvey, while the woman he harassed (silent throughout the play) appears as a wronged presence, and her attorney recounts the former judge's misdeeds. Garvey's wife is also present to show her support for her husband, despite his attempted infidelity and sexual predation. Jones called the drama Norris's "best play to date," and called the playwright himself "a talented scribe with considerable potential."

In The Pain and the Itch, a well-to-do but disturbingly paranoid couple in conflict with each other battle obsessions with perceived dangers to their home and their two young children. The story is told in flashbacks to a cab driver, Mr. Hadid, sitting in the main characters' living room. Prominent attorney Kelly and stay-at-home dad Clay work themselves into an emotional frenzy over an unseen animal they think has violated the safety zone of their upscale townhouse, represented by unidentified bite marks on an avocado. A missing loaf of gourmet bread and footsteps sounding overhead add to the emotional tautness. Of secondary importance to the two fretting adults is the unpleasant genital rash suffered by their young daughter, an immediate, in-the-present condition that is afforded less attention than ephemeral invaders and superficial annoyances. Also present is Clay's brother Cash and his Eastern European girlfriend Kalina, and the brothers' mother, Carol. Kalina's overt sexuality and materialism are offensive to the family, until they learn she was victim of brutal atrocities in her homeland. Even then, the family doesn't know how to react to her traumatic experiences. "In many ways, the play is a portrait of illiberal liberalism—the tendency of the NPR-loving classes to be especially clueless in the face of global suffering," commented Chris Jones in Daily Variety. Marilyn Stasio, writing in Daily Varity, noted that Norris "labors mightily for language and metaphor to convey his contempt for those politically correct liberals who have it all and don't want to share." Eventually, the story is resolved and the presence of Mr. Hadid is explained, further exposing the family's shallow values and do-gooder hypocrisy. "When they are finally exposed to people who could really use the understanding and compassion of concerned citizens such as they purport to be, Kelly and Clay turn into uncaring monsters," Stasio remarked.

Norris "creates great roles for actors, writes propellant-quick dialogue and tackles complex material with a unique comic dexterity," commented Bordelon. "They may not ever be ‘uplifting,’ but they're guaranteed to be hilarious and provocative."



Back Stage East, September 28, 2006, David Sheward, review of The Pain and the Itch, p. 49.

Daily Variety, July 14, 2005, Chris Jones, review of The Pain and the Itch, p. 10; July 12, 2006, Steven Oxman, review of The Unmentionables, p. 4; September 22, 2006, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Pain and the Itch, p. 5.

Variety, March 20, 2000, Chris Jones, review of The Infidel, p. 53; July 18, 2005, Chris Jones, review of The Pain and the Itch, p. 43; July 17, 2006, Steven Oxman, review of The Unmentionables, p. 43; October 2, 2006, Marilyn Stasio, review of The Pain and the Itch, p. 130.


Steppenwolf Theater, (January 2, 2007), biography of Bruce Norris; Margot Bordelon, "Uplifting Isn't His Style: Bruce Norris at Steppenwolf," profile of Bruce Norris.

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