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(photo by Joan Marcus)

Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum play characters at opposite ends of the spectrum in Bruce Norris’s searing DOMESTICATED (photo by Joan Marcus)

Lincoln Center Theater at the Mitzi E. Newhouse
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Saturday through January 5, $87

In his previous play, the Tony- and Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris presented an examination of race and community in two distinct halves, the first act taking place in 1959, the second in 2009. In his follow-up, Domesticated, Norris (The Pain and the Itch, The Parallelogram) again divides his story into two parts, but this time it’s a bitter battle of the sexes, with the wife stating her case in the first act and the husband making his in the second. The torn-from-the-headlines plot begins as a disgraced cabinet member, gynecologist Bill “the Pulverizer” Pulver (Jeff Goldblum), holds a press conference to announce his resignation because of a sex scandal, with his wife, Judy (Laurie Metcalf), by his side but looking none too pleased. For nearly the rest of the first act, Judy does not allow Bill to say a word as she lets him have it, reevaluating their life together as more of Bill’s extracurricular activities come out and a young woman lies in a coma. Their high school age daughter, the rather chatty and self-involved Casey (Emily Meade), is furious about the whole situation, while their adopted Asian daughter, asthmatic thirteen-year-old Cassidy (Misha Seo), speaks only to introduce certain scenes, discussing the mating habits of various animals as if delivering a school report, with the female of the species growing more and more powerful over the course of the play. “The purpose of this presentation is to examine the nature of sexual dimorphism and the advantages and disadvantages thereby conferred,” she says early on, speaking into a microphone as video images are projected onto small screens hanging from the ceiling. “Sexual dimorphism is the physical differentiation by gender within a given species, and may include such diverse manifestations as size, color, and the presence or absence of anatomical parts such as ornamental feathers, horns, antlers, or tusks.”

The Pulverizer (Jeff Goldblum) has a whole lot of explaining to do in tense family drama (photo by Joan Marcus)

The Pulverizer (Jeff Goldblum) has a whole lot of explaining to do in tense family drama (photo by Joan Marcus)

By the end of the first act, Bill has pretty much been plucked clean, but in the second act he explains himself to anyone who will listen, from a bartender to a transgendered individual to a patient at the health clinic he cofounded. (The cast also includes Vanessa Aspillaga, Lizbeth Mackay, Mary Beth Peil, Karen Pittman, and Aleque Reid playing multiple roles, with Mia Barron as the Pulver family’s attorney and Robin De Jesus as the bar patron.) Judy and Bill then fight it out one last time in a brutal war of words that is both complex and surprising. For Domesticated, the Mitzi Newhouse has been arranged in a circle, with the action taking place in the small center space. Steppenwolf member Anna D. Shapiro, who’s directed five previous Norris plays in addition to winning a Tony for August: Osage County, has each scene overlap the next in the first act, creating a fast, fluid atmosphere that slows down considerably in the far more static second act. The show is set up like a classic courtroom drama, the prosecution presenting its case first, then the defense, and it holds up well despite the apparent one-sidedness of the argument. Some scenes fall flat, especially the ones involving an Oprah-like talk show host (Pittman), and the second act drags on too long as it documents Bill’s downfall, but it becomes alive again during its fiery conclusion. Metcalf (The Other Place) once more shows why she’s become one of New York’s most dependable, gifted, and eminently watchable stage actors, giving beautifully subtle nuances to a character who could have been one-note and repetitive. Goldblum is solid as well, easily transitioning from a silent film comedian in the first act to an overblown misogynist in the second, although the script occasionally lets him down as he does indeed grow repetitive. The play also features an important warning to all couples: Beware the triplewart seadevil. (On December 19, Goldblum and Metcalf will take part in a free Platform Series discussion in the Vivian Beaumont lobby at 6:00.)

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