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A CurtainUp Review

"what am I, a salmon? I'm supposed to mate once and then die? No. We're a promiscuous species"— Bill turns talkative and reflects on his long-standing "problem with fidelity. Not that he expects anyone to sympathize with his years of solving that "problem" with multiple extra-marital adventures. As he puts it, "For a man to want compassion from women is like a Nazi asking sympathy from a roomful of Jews."
Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
The once popular confession magazines with their mock "true" sin, suffer and repent stories seem to have vanished from the newsstands. But a much more public, widely disseminated and titillating confession story has taken its place: The politician caught sinning and then holding a press conference with the pained looking, sinned-against spouse at his side.

Instead of the nickel a word confession magazine free lancers, a highly paid cadre of writers have mined the adulterous politicians confessions of Bill Clinton Elliot Spitzer (which have continued with Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford) for spinoffs like The Good Wife, Political Animals and House of Cards.

With his new play, Domesticated, Bruce Norris has used the increasingly familiar political confessional to give his own provocative take on the the unresolved issues of gender. While not as wildly original as his Pulitzer Prize winning and constantly produced Clybourne Park, it is a clever addition to the behind the scenes exposes of political marriages. As is usual with this playwright, Domesticated is enlivened with smart, sound bite peppered dialogue.

Best of all Bill and Judy, the couple Norris has invented to face that awful moment in the confessional limelight, are played by Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum — she masterfully navigating the stages of grieved support, escalating rage and cold rejection; he marvelously watchable, whether silently repentant or obnoxiously determined to justify himself as the victim of women stifling the male's natural non-monogamous instincts.

Though Domesticated is Bill and Judy's story, it includes roles for a substantial cast of other characters. In this instance we have nine additional actors expertly playing more than two dozen roles. All except one (a transvestite by the excellent Robin de Jesus) are women. Clearly this expands the play from a story of marital betrayal and insures that the deliciously odious Bill has a tough time justifying his libidinous behavior to more than the wife he's been cheating on for ten years. No wonder the Mitzi Newhouse has been reconfigured to add a seating section at what's usually the back of the stage which turns small circular playing area into a boxing ring and the audience into spectators at a bare-knucked fight that's refereed with pulsating tempo by director Anna D. Shapiro.

Familiar as the basic situation is count on Mr. Norris to present his version of the power couple on the ropes with enough original twists to make for a stimulating, full of post-show discussion potential two hours. He intersperses the uses a slide illustrated high school report about differences between various male and female animal species by Judy and Bill's adopted daughter Cassidy (Misha Seo, who's otherwise mute making one wonder if this family wouldn't have a parenting problem even, without the current trauma).

Besides, the screen projected report as an alternative device for a Greek chorus style commentator, Norris underscores the power struggle of this once successful power couple, by keeping the newly disgraced Bill silent throughout the first act, except for a stumbling apology and resignation from his unspecified political post. Instead the talking is done by the women: Most tellingly and devastatingly by Metcalf looking aptly elegant in Jennifer von Mayrhauser's beige pants suit (costumes and other design elements overall are top of the line); but also by his very verbal older daughter Casey (Emily Meade, expertly doing pissed off teen brattiness); Bobbie (Mia Barron), the lawyer and family friend handling the case that brought Bill's decade of adventures with prostitutes out into the open; a shrink (the terrific Mary Beth Peil in the first of five roles); and Jackie (Lizbeth Mackay), the mother of the prostitute. And not to be overlooked is Vanessa Aspillaga who play the most roles, starting as Pilar the maid.

But in the second act, Norris sends Judy off until close to the end to give Jeff his say. As he tries and fails to get back into his original profession his silent repentance (Perhaps we need an award for best silent acting in a play) turns to frustrated self-justification as being part of a species that should not be subjected to monogamous domestication.

Naturally, the play doesn't end without the wonderful Metcalf to return to the stage for an 18-months-later scene that will prompt post show debates as to how she reacts or should have reacted to the unlikable Bill's attempt to replay the serenading Romeo beginnings of their dead 30-year marriage. Anyone in favor of a hopeful ending might do well to keep in mind Shakespeare's song from another play, Much Ado about Nothing: One foot in sea and one on shore/to one thing constant never."

Domesticated by Bruce Norris
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Cast: Vanessa Aspillaga (Pilar), Mia Barron (Bobbie), Robin De Jesus (Bar Patron), Jeff Goldblum (Bill), Lizbeth Mackay (Jackie), Emily Meade (Casey), Laurie Metcalf (Judy), Mary Beth Peil (Shrink), Karen Pittman (A.D.A.), Aleque Reid (Becky) and Misha Seo (Cassidy).
Sets: Todd Rosenthal
Costumes: Jennifer von Mayrhauser
Lighting: James F. Ingalls
Sound: John Gromada
Stage Manager: Jane Grey;
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission
Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater 150 West 65th Street
From 10/15/13; opening 11/04/13; closing 1/04/14
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©Copyright 2013, Elyse Sommer.
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Domesticated - Bruce Norris's take on the political adulterer's confessional is enlivened by a terrific cast and dialogue . . . Read More