New York City Theater
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
They’re a spectacle all right, those randy politicians caught with their pants down, confessing to the public, while loyal, teeth-clenching wives stand at their side. “I failed to live up to principles,” says Bill, uttering the year’s most biting understatement in Bruce Norris’ trenchant “Domesticated.” Starring the formidable team of Laurie Metcalf as stung yet stinging wife Judy and Jeff Goldblum as cheating husband Bill, the evening is a hornet’s nest of hatred tempered with some of the bitterest humor around.
Although it doesn’t actually progress, this fast, furious and funny play is framed by slide lectures depicting male animals who function mainly as studs. It’s the women who bear the children, after which they may have no more need of their partners. The female Ring-necked Pheasant, for example, lives twice as long as the male and is more selective in how she chooses a mate. Would that Judy had been as careful.
For Bill, a gynecologist turned politician, indiscretion turns into a criminal charge when the young prostitute he’s with falls, hits her head and ends up in a coma. All sorts of troubles –legal, domestic, parental -- follow Norris, who won a Pulitzer for his sharp “Clybourne Park,” which dissected black-white relationships, turns his laser on male-female ones. His first act is devoted to Judy, as, wading into the facts, she finds more and more muck. The second half follows the self-justifying Bill, going on and on about how marriage is more than just sex.
The line “Words can hurt as much as a fist,” leads to the one word – love – that we should never use, believes Bill. “Why do we have to torture each other with this word we made up,” he asks, “as if it actually means anything?”
On a set surrounded on all four sides by the audience, as if they were observing a boxing match, director Anna D. Shapiro maneuvers the play’s ever-changing dynamics and multiple scenes with great skill. As she was with her handling of “August: Osage County,” Shapiro is an expert puppet master, pulling the strings, exuding confidence that they don’t become entangled. Her direction is as much a tour de force as the play and the acting.
--David A Rosenberg
Nov. 24, 2013