Domesticated, a caustic, often funny, but ultimately rather superficial new play by Bruce Norris at Lincoln Center Theater, is basically a news update from the front lines of the War Between the Sexes with Jeff Goldblum and Laurie Metcalf as the husband and wife antagonists in a knock-down, drag-out battle over who will tame whom.
Norris, who won both the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Clybourne Park, has stacked the cards against husband Bill from the start. Everywhere he turns, Bill finds himself at the mercy of a bevy of females, led by wife Judy and including one presumed transsexual, who attack from every side of the stage. But any underdog sentiment for Bill's plight is stifled by the circumstances that got him there in the first place.
The play opens with Bill, a gynecologist turned politician, resigning from a government post with an apology of sorts for some unspecified sexual indiscretion. Those specifics are leaked over the next few scenes, which change faster than a movie under Anna D. Shapiro's adroit direction. Bill had been playing an erotic game involving a paddle with a young prostitute in a hotel room when the girl fell, hit her head on the bed, and ended up in a coma.
At the start, Judy stands by her man, at least in public, and believes his assurances that this was a one-time only encounter. But even the most truthful of humans lie about sex, and as Bill prepares to fight possible criminal charges it comes out that he has been soliciting from teen Web sites for years and has had at least 37 such assignations at up to $2,000 a time. He even had a fling of sorts with his woman lawyer, who also happens to be Judy's best friend.
If this scenario sounds familiar to something you just read in a newspaper or heard on TV, you will probably recognize where the rest of Domesticated is headed. About the only thing Bill can offer in his defense is that he told Judy all those years ago - when he courted her in college by serenading her with a guitar - that he didn't believe in monogamy. Oh, and he at least called 911 when the hooker hit her head in the hotel room.
The play is framed as a school report on sexual dimorphism delivered by Cassidy, Bill and Judy's young adopted daughter from Cambodia. At the top of each act and between certain scenes she shows a slide of a species in which the male is subservient to the female. The male laughing hyena, for example, is the lowest of the low in the social structure of a pack dominated by the female, while the male angler fish is nothing more than an appendage to the female, living off her as a parasite. Other examples abound.
The structure of Domesticated further serves to underscore the inconsequence of Bill's existence. Throughout the first act, Goldblum has little more than the walk-on duties of an extra while the women around him run his life and castigate him. Not the least of these is his older daughter, Casey, an opinionated and outspoken teen who has taken up the fight against the forced circumcision of women in parts of the Third World.
Bill finds his voice after intermission, but his efforts to exculpate himself fall on the deaf ears of a variety of women ranging from a barmaid, the transsexual, a policewoman, an Oprah-like talk show host, a former medical colleague, and several women patients. The domestication of Bill is mostly comic, though an undercurrent of bitterness creeps in from time to time as he expounds on the failure of women to understand the natural order of things as he sees it.
Metcalf and Goldblum lead an all-round splendid cast that keeps the action racing across the stage. Nobody does high dudgeon quite like Metcalf. Behind a polite, well-bred veneer she fires retorts at Bill's fecklessness with the rapidity of an AK-47, while Goldblum convincingly wanders through the play in a daze, wondering what hit him.