by Brice Norris
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Starring Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf
Lincoln Center Theater
at the Vivian Beaumont

Reviewed by David Spencer

In Domesticated playwright Bruce Norris gives us a politician (Jeff Goldblum) laid low (pn intended?) by an extramarital sex scandal in which a young prostitute, in what may or may not have been an accident, hit her head in a struggle and fell into a coma. The play explores the backlash on his wife (Laurie Metcalf) and two teenage daughters, biological (Emily Meade) and Asian-adopted (Vanessa Aspillaga) as the media has its field day, and as the mother of the prostitute pursues a law suit that eventually uncovers a list of prior infidelities nearly 40 strong. In the first act, the politician says very little, save for making his resignation speech to the press at the beginning and making another kind of resignation speech to his family before intermission. But in Act Two the gag is off and you can’t stop him talking. And that, for me, was where the play struck me as bewildering of purpose. The intent of the play seems to be to show what motivates a man to be so rampantly unfaithful to a wife he presumably still loves, what compels a woman with every reason to leave him (and cut his tool off for good measure) to rationalize staying with him—and on a larger scale to explore what powers the largely male-driven cultural assumption that men are born to be sexual adventures while women find their way more naturally to fidelity and staying rooted to hearth and home. And so there’s a promise of revelation and insight. Alas, there’s very little: He’s a self-justifying misogynist, she’s an advocate of by-the-book fidelity with a sharp, judgmental tongue when provoked and those of us who don’t fit the profiles don’t understand either one any better; more importantly, don’t see the dark thread of encroaching self-recognition that would have us re-examine our moral paradigms. (One can argue the crucial writ small: there is a final confrontation in which each speaks candidly for the first time about certain aspects of their intimate life—which might suggest that all this might be avoided if you’re not afraid to offend one another about what you do and don’t like in bed—but as a “punch line” it seems insufficient somehow; even though in real life it may well at times be the truth.) The good news is that Norris remains a writer of significant wit, so the dialogue has a nicely nasty crackle when it needs to; and of course, you cannot take your eyes or your ears off Goldblume and Metcalf who, as always, simply have that devastating charisma and sense of nuance. Relatively seamless and appropriate direction is by Anna D. Shapiro.

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