The scene is all too familiar. The adulterous politician looking somber reading his apology while his wife stands beside him trying to gather any bit of dignity she has left. In the U.S., we practically sit in front of the television with popcorn watching the debacle, and when they walk away holding hands the show ends. At “Domesticated” we get all the juicy behind-the-scenes action we only imagine in our heads by an ensemble of fantastic actors.
“Domesticated” is a look into a never-ending train wreck written by Steppenwolf ensemble member Bruce Norris who is also directing the Chicago production of the popular play. Gynecologist turned politician Bill Pulver, excellently played by Tom Irwin, admits to an affair with a prostitute, who while in the act with Pulver falls and becomes incapacitated, and experiences the tsunami of pain with and from his family, friends, and colleagues. The entire situation is framed by a school presentation from his daughter Cassidy, played by Emily Chang, about sexual dimorphism in different animals.
Except for the first scene, Pulver spends the first half of the show silent serving as a punching bag for his wife Judy, played by first-act star Mary Beth Fisher, behaving in the way many of the public wants or thinks many of these political wives should behave. Her rightfully condescending tone and perfectly planted punch lines incite laughter in the audience. Their bratty and self-righteous daughter Casey, played by Melanie Neilan, gets in some hits herself bringing in more laughs and gasps.
When the second act kicks in it’s Pulver’s turn to speak, and while you’re expecting some sort of explanation to at least give him some slight benefit he just digs himself deeper with his loved ones and the audience. This is where you realize that this production isn’t going to get wrapped-up in a bow or show any kind of transformation. The play is meant to encourage discussion. The sexual dimorphism presentation isn’t going to end with it showing that humans are any different but it’s there to ask the audience whether humans can be any different. Pulver certainly doesn’t believe so as he equates nearly every abstract feeling to imaginary construct that is only a facade to our animal instincts. Being that his lies have ruined his family, he doesn’t really help his case, but you’re still going to ask if he’s right.
“Domesticated” will run until Feb. 7, 2016 at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company located at 1650 N. Halsted Ave. For more information visit steppenwolf.org/Plays-Events/productions/index.aspx?id=640.