In Domesticated, Bruce Norris’ viciously funny but uneven dark comedy, the magnificent Laurie Metcalf plays a woman who seems all too familiar from cable news (or The Good Wife): the dutiful wife of a politician brought low by a sex scandal. Dressed in a white pant suit as her philandering, prostitute-hiring hubby, Bill (Jeff Goldblum), delivers his apologia/resignation, she stares blankly over his shoulder in effortful self-containment, her face a mask of stricken befuddlement.
Her feelings do not remained buried for long, particularly as she learns — both gradually and somewhat improbably — the full magnitude of her husband’s misdeeds. As her best friend, Bobbie (Mia Barron), tells her at one point, ”You married a gynecologist. A gynecologist who went into politics. Didn’t that tell you something?”
Naturally, the philandering gynecologist-turned-pol has a difficult time re-entering his old career, one of many ways in which Norris stacks the deck in his domestic house of cards. None of the characters here are particularly sympathetic — not the couple’s self-absorbed teenage daughter (Emily Meade), nor Bill’s overbearing mom (Mary Beth Peil, essentially reprising her role from The Good Wife), nor the opportunistic mother of his comatose prostitute/victim (Lizbeth Mackay), nor the Oprah-like talk-show host eager to exploit the tragedy for ratings (Karen Pittman) . But even the more benign players — like the couple’s adopted Asian daughter, Cassidy (Misha Seo) — become little more than punchline fodder. (”Does she even speak English?” Bill asks of the deeply withdrawn girl at one point. Alarmingly, his wife Judy’s reply is just as callous: ”I have no idea.”)
Norris, whose Clybourne Park was a Pulitzer and Tony-winning update of A Raisin in the Sun that explored the tricky politics of American race relations, is not content with exploring the raw edges of one political marriage. He strives to make a larger point about modern gender relations and the utility (and possibility) of male monogamy. But despite Anna D. Shapiro’s crisp, well-paced direction, Domesticated is better on caustic humor and verbal one-upmanship than real insight or character development. Metcalf comes the closest to creating a woman with genuine shades of hurt beneath the brittle exterior wit. But while the theater consistently rings with laughter, the show seldom rings true. B-