By: David Sheward
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning Clybourne Park-a satiric rethinking of A Raisin in the Sun-Bruce Norris turned liberal assumptions about race relations inside out. Now in Domesticated, he takes the same explosive approach to feminist and sexual issues. It’s a darkly funny, dangerous comedy, staged with a firecracker wit by Anna D. Shapiro that matches Norris’s and is sure to inspire plenty of after-theater arguments.
At first, the playwright appears to be covering familiar territory. We open on a common sight in our 24/7 news-cycle world: a male politician making a public apology for sexual indiscretion, his tight-lipped spouse by his side. It looks like we’re in for another Good Wife. But the caustic playwright leads us on a labyrinthine journey through this individual couple’s hellish marriage and the minefield that heterosexual connections in contemporary America have become.
Yes, disgraced office-holder Bill is something of a pig. Not only has he been caught consorting with prostitutes, but the latest one is in a coma-possibly because of his actions. The resultant negative publicity sends his entire life into a downward spiral. His wife, Judy; daughters Cassidy and Casey; and all the women in his life (almost all of the characters are female) berate him for the entire first act. In the second act, Bill gets to have his say, and his raw, blunt defense of his actions rips apart cherished beliefs and displays the human side of a political bogeyman. Norris adds another layer of irony by making Bill a gynecologist who returns to his former profession after resigning from public life, raising even more issues of male-female conflict.
Jeff Goldblum manages to make this lout understandable, if not sympathetic. In the first act, his silent reactions to the chaos surrounding him are timed with precision for maximum comic impact, and his outbursts in the second act are equally truthful and hilarious. Laurie Metcalf gives us a dozen gripping variations on the wronged wife, ranging from outraged defender of the home front to guilty accomplice in the wreck of her marriage. A cast of veterans skillfully juggles multiple roles. Especially memorable are Mia Barron as hypocritical lawyer, Karen Pittman as an Oprah-ish talk show host, and Mary Beth Peil as Bill’s imperious mother.
The title comes from a science project by the younger daughter. Between scenes, the girl (a marvelously deadpan Misha Seo) dryly delivers a series of nasty lectures on female domination in the natural world, males of certain species becoming thoroughly submissive. It’s a riotous commentary on the wrangling between men and women in the play. Domesticated totally lacks the tameness this title suggests. It’s fierce and wild, qualities sadly lacking in too many of the mild, safe shows now on our stages.
Nov. 4-Jan. 5. Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center, 150 W. 65th St., NYC. Tue 8pm, Wed 2pm & 8pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 3pm. Running time 2 hours and 20 minutes, including intermission. $77-87. (212) 239-6200. www.telecharge.com