by Toby Zinman
for the Inquirer
The scourge of America strikes again! Following the hilarious, shocking, Pulitzer-winning and Tony-winning excoriation called Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris gives us Domesticated—also shocking, if not so funny. If Clybourne Park was an exposé of the racism that lurks beneath the American skin—regardless of the color of that skin—Domesticated is an exposé of the sexism that lurks beneath the skin—regardless of the genitals.
Starring Jeff Goldblum as Bill and Laurie Metcalf as Judy, the play begins in front of television cameras as a sex scandal shreds a political career (think Anthony Weiner, think Elliot Spitzer, etc etc) as well as a family. As Bobbie (Mia Barron) their friend and lawyer says to Judy, “I mean, Jesus Christ, you married a gynecologist. A gynecologist who went into politics. Didn’t that tell you something?”
And it’s not as though Norris has forgotten about racism: all the people of color in the play are either servants, or naïve or annoying (like the self-obsessed talk show host played by the slick Karen Pittman). And add in a vocabulary-challenged, belligerent tranny. All this reveals not only Norris’ bigotry, but forces us to acknowledge our own. If we don’t, we risk sounding like the self-righteous socially outraged older daughter, Casey (Emily Meade is terrific).
The entire excellent ensemble doubles and triples in a variety of roles (Mary Beth Peil is exceptionally good), and director Anna D. Shapiro moves them through the many scenes seamlessly. The minimal set (designed by Todd Rosenthal for theatre in the round) glides into reconfigurations so smoothly you never notice how it happened.
The scenes are structured as well as implicitly commented upon by a school report, a video presentation by the younger thirteen-year-old daughter (Misha Seo), adopted from Cambodia (Norris lets no one off the hook). Her topic is “dimorphism,” and she demonstrates in her soft, meek voice, that in nature—fish, fowl, beast--the male of the species has becomes less and less necessary, and therein lies the moral of Norris’s tale. Women have attained more and more power, he seems to say, and medical breakthroughs in reproduction may render men unnecessary.
Bill and Judy could easily become cartoons characters, but Goldblum and Metcalf are so subtle, so much in command of the complexity of the argument that we see them as fully human as well as two “sides” in the gender politics debate. Goldblum, nearly silent through all of Act One, speaks much meaning with his body language—sobbing into his napkin at the dinner table, freeing his coattails by raising his long predatory arms, lounging against a bar. Metcalf can visibly swallow her rage and then lash out with stunning force.
And if anybody has any hope that the battle of the sexes will achieve a negotiated and lasting peace, Norris declares them deluded. Strindberg may have found the true heir to his misogynist throne.
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 W. 65th St. Through Jan.5. Tickets $77-87. Information: www.lct.org