Few playwrights know how to get the conversation flowing – onstage and off – like Bruce Norris. Indeed, no sooner had the lights gone up the other evening after the ending of “Domesticated”, his incendiary new work at Lincoln Center Mitzi A. Newhouse Theatre, then the three women behind me were loudly expressing their opinions of Judy (Laurie Metcalf), the seemingly wronged wife of prostitute-loving politician Bill (Jeff Goldblum). And if you think they were all on Judy’s side – think again.
While I don’t think “Domesticated” is as accomplished as his Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “Clybourne Park” or as outrageous as “The Pain and the Itch,” it certainly provides plenty of fodder for discussion -- as well as marvelous opportunities for the superb cast assembled by director Anna D. Shapiro. As Norris slowly reveals Bill’s infidelities, misogyny, and possible miscalculation of the reality of his marriage, he also shows us that Judy may not be the perfect wife. Moreover, the multitudes of women who populate Bill’s life, from his surly teenaged daughter Casey (the excellent Emily Meade) to Jackie, the mother of the hooker Bill may have put in a coma (Lizbeth Mackay), all have their own agendas and axes to grind.
At times, the play seems a bit too familiar, both in its ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter and its similarity to TV’s “The Good Wife” (down to the casting of the invaluable Mary Beth Piel as Bill’s mother). Norris also overdoes the initially clever idea of having Bill and Judi’s younger adopted daughter Cassidy (Misha Seo) present slide shows of various male and female animal species to hammer home his message.
But the dialogue is rarely less than crackling, especially in the expert hands of its stars. No one does outrage, hurt, sarcasm, and pain –often simultaneously – with the same expertise as Metcalf. And Goldblum is pitch-perfect, whether displaying Bill’s surprising cluelessness about human relations, his frequent bouts of terrifying temper, as well as the morsels of hard-to-hear truth that emerge from his lips. He also deserves a special award for his mostly-reactive work in the first act, when none of the women around him allow him to speak.
These peerless actors are expertly supported by a hard-working ensemble, with special praise going to Robin De Jesus as an unusual bar patron who picks a fight with a Bill, Mia Barron as the emotional Bobbie (who is Judy’s best friend and Bill’s lawyer and ex-paramour), and Karen Pittman, who gives a devastating yet humorous portrayal of an Oprah Winfrey-like talk show host.
Like all of Norris’ work, “Domesticated” is designed to make you think, feel, even shout. That’s all good! Just don’t go on a first date.
[Photo (top) by Joan Marcus ]
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Vanessa Aspillaga. Mia Barron, Robin De Jesus, Jeff Goldblum, Lizbeth Mackay, Emily Meade, Laurie Metcalf, Mary Beth Peil, Karen Pittman, Misha Seo
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
150 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023