Here's the official short summary of Bruce Norris's Domesticated: "Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum play Judy and Bill Pulver, whose marriage is thrust into the public eye by scandal." Here's how Anna D. Shapiro, the director of the production, who I talked to the other day before rehearsal, sees the story: "The play consists of 32 scenes that happen quickly. In many ways, how we transition between them is the story. As in life, what happens between your conversations with someone can contain more of the story than the conversations themselves."
Shapiro, who won a Tony award in 2008 for directing Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, said that "moving between the scenes cannot impede the understanding of the play. The delivery system for the transitions has been our biggest technical challenge." She added: "I have to trust that the work I did with the playwright and the designers before we started rehearsal will help us meet that challenge."
Shapiro has staged a half-dozen of Norris's plays, including one of my favorites, The Pain and the Itch. "Like all first-rate writers," she said, "Bruce is always engaging the same central question: how do politics and society impact human experience? Each time, he does it from a slightly different angle."
What distinguishes Domesticated in the context of Norris's work? "Bruce tends to distribute his theme through a group of individuals," Shapiro replied. The Pain and the Itch is a good example of that." She continued: "With Domesticated, the main theme is played out through a very dynamic conflict between two people - the main couple, Bill and Judy."
Norris mentioned to me recently that an audience watching a play is in a process of trying to decide which character to root for. How does Shapiro see that issue with Domesticated? "My sense of who to root for," the director replied, "has been shifting during rehearsals. This has been made especially interesting because Bill and Judy rarely speak to each other directly." She continued: "And I've been reminded that a character who's speaking at a particular moment isn't necessarily the person you're rooting for at that particular moment. When you have the floor the audience isn't just yours to win; it's yours to lose."
Domesticated may pivot on a discomfiting conflict, but Shapiro says that working on the play - touch wood - has been pleasurable. "This has been one of the most rewarding and engaging rehearsal processes I've ever had. I'm hoping that this continues over the next week." And why wouldn't it? "Well, tech rehearsals" - they start on Thursday - "are always their own kind of challenge."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com