Bruce Norris, also a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble, wrote and directed this very funny, fast moving play about a gynecologist turned politician, Bill Pulver, who ends up putting a young prostitute into a coma during rough sex play.
The play opens at a press conference as the news hits the public about the young woman struggling for life on a respirator where it is also noted with disgust that she was wearing a child's school uniform when found - much like Pulver’s uniforms his own two young daughters wear to school.
As the play goes on, we find out this is not a one-time event, and in fact it is slowly revealed that he has been seeing various prostitutes for over a decade and has spent more than $76,000.00 of he and his wife's money on his “hobby”, or “sex addiction” which is never made clear.
I really enjoyed that the female characters far outnumbered the male characters in this play. It gave each of the leads especially Mary Beth Fisher, who plays Pulver’s wife Judy the chance to really tear up the stage with some fantastic speeches.
Steppenwolf favorite Tom Irwin in the lead as Pulver is perfect as the slightly charismatic, Bill Clinton-ish character who thinks he has no reason to say he's sorry to the public or anyone else. Pulver feels that cheating on his wife with a prostitute is not an ongoing affair, but rather a victim-less crime and a necessity for any man who has been married as long as he has. Pulver refuses to apologize to the public at the press conference and seems to think what he has done is as common as using porn anonymously on the internet except that the porn actually comes to you and has sex with you.
The couple has a preteen daughter they adopted from Asia who shows a slideshow throughout the play describing how different species of animals have much more dominant females than humans do. Some that do not even require a male to reproduce. Cassidy was who was played sensitively by Emily Chang is literally sickened by the arguing going on around her, grabbing her inhaler and running offstage which neither parent seems to notice or really care about.
For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliantly written, witty, almost manifesto-like feminist play. Refreshing is that Norris is not afraid to bring to the surface such taboo subject matter, for instance when the older daughter brings up how upset she is and genuinely concerned with issues like female genital mutilation, a desperately important and horrific feminist and human rights desecration I did not even know existed when I was a teenager.
But then completely disappointing is when Norris writes a final scene where the victim awakens from her coma and seems to be seeking publicity for a book about her injuries. This scene seemed to turn everything around as if it was her fault or intent in some way to capitalize on his crime and shows the husband and wife on opposite sides of the stage breathing a sigh of relief, almost as if to say that if she's not “dead”, and wants some retribution, she probably is a just a whore who "asked for it”, and he is just a regular cheating husband just like any other husband except that he wanted to hold public office while continuing to cheat on his wife with prostitutes. It was almost as if Pulver should be absolved of his wrong doing and may actually even become the victim when the rest of the play, up until that point, steered us otherwise.
I know some men will be aggravated watching this play but intrigued while women will just love it. In fact, there was a gentleman sitting next to me who stated in the after play discussion, "His wife is such a shrew, I think he had a right to cheat on her." I quickly asked, "Even if that's true, did he have the right to lie to her for a decade? To expose her to any number of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS without her knowledge?" The man fell silent and could not answer me, but I suspect he and his wife had quite a rousing discussion on their ride home!
Funny, smart and dark, running 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, "Domesticated" is exciting to watch, full of great performances and highly recommended. “Domesticated” will get you and your partner talking - and maybe in the process even fuel a few long overdue divorces of its own.
“Domesticated” is playing at Steppenwolf Theatre through February 7th. For more show information visit www.steppenwolf.org.
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