Highly Recommended **** Bruce Norris is a familiar name in Chicago. In particular at the Steppenwolf Theatre where he is a member of their brilliant Ensemble of actors, directors and writers. The current production linking these two Chicago landmarks in the theater community is “Domesticated”, written and directed by Norris with a cast of marvelous actors bringing life to a story of what happens to a family when their lives hits a snag. The snag in this case is in the bedroom! Our “couple” that head this family are Bill and Judy, the Pulvers. Tom Irwin plays the politician/physician who has shamed his family and reputation by putting a young prostitute in the hospital and into unconsciousness. His devoted wife, Judy (played to perfection by the always superb Mary Beth Fisher) appears to stand by his side in his opening public apology, but a sthe story unfolds, so does their marriage, and family.
The story is truly several stories about marriage, politics, social mores of today, gender differences and how humans relate to the world of animals, fish and insects. Yes, this might seem confusing, but what starts out to be what appears to be a classroom study or presentation of the animal kingdom in a high school gymnasium, showing us how the human is different from animals, and yet the same, but evolves very quickly into the examination of the lives of the Pulver family and their extended families as well. Norris indicates in his characters that the male is the “animal” and while he may find himself entranced with a woman, once the word “love” enters the picture, they are doomed. Women are the force that ties the family and perhaps the community together.It is the position taken that while women build our world, men destroy it almost as quickly.
This is definitely a “think piece” and very worthy of after show discussions. I know that people who leave the theater, no matter how long the ride home, will find the discussion about what they saw longer than the miles driven (or bus ride home). In this story, Bill’s lust for life and almost any woman he meets costs him dearly; his position in life, his respect from the community, his family and perhaps even his self image (although many might think he works his way back in the end). Judy, a proud mother who as Bill says, once her daughter was born, found that to be her true love, rebuilds her life as she authors a book to tell her story and at the same time raise funds for the young woman who lays in a hospital bed as a result of her being with Bill.
Their family- the daughters are played by Melanie Neilan (Casey) who is powerful but as many young actresses tend to do, speaks very fast, causing many of Norris’s wonderful words to be lost on those who cannot hear as fast as she speaks. Younger sister Cassidy (adopted) played by Emily Chang is also our narrator leading s through the high school science/sex show. The ensemble is made up of Jeannie Affelder, Kona N. Burks, Esteban Andres Cruz (who plays a small role, but one of great importance in understanding Bill and his ideas about gender), Meighan Gerachis, Rae Gray (who many of us have watched grow up on Chicago stages, Mildred Marie Langford (who does a great turn as a talk show host), Rosa SanMarchi, Meg Thalken (who is delightful as grandma), Karen Janes Woditsch and the incredible Beth Lacke as Bobbie, their attorney and best friend (the best might have a capital B). Many of these ensemble members play many characters, and do so with grace and style. They prove how important the ensemble can be to the total production.
Todd Rosenthal’s set is different as it goes from Gymnasium, to house, to beach, to bar, to park bench and many more places with very little pomp and circumstance, thus we never are taken out of the production. smooth as silk! This play is all about understanding the characters and the plot and sub-plot so while the costumes (Jenny Mannis), lighting (Ann G. Wrighton), sound (Rick Sims) and projections (Jeff Sugg) are all top-notch, it is the script and the actors who make us see the light that Norris has created for us. I know you will find this is one to think about. Can this family ever be a unit again? Can Bill be a physician if women fear him? Was the initial incident and accident? Or is Bill, in fact, an “animal” himself? Your mind will open to the many ideas of Bruce Norris with this one!
“Domesticated” will continue at The Steppenwolf Theatre located at 1650 N. Halsted Street, in the “downstairs” theater thru February 7th, 2016 with performances as follows:
Wednesday 7:30 p.m.
2:p.m. starting 1/20
Thursday 7:30 p.m.
Friday 7:30 p.m.
Saturday 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday 3 and 7:30 p.m.
starting January 17th 3 p.m. with a special 1:30 p.m. on 1/24 ( TT)
NO PERFORMANCES on CHRISTMAS EVE or DAY
Tickets range from $20-$89 and are available at the box office, by calling 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org where you can also learn more about discussions and special performances.
Running time approx. 2 hours with an intermission.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Domesticated” enjoy!