In Domesticated, Mia Barron plays a lawyer named Bobbie. She is advising Judy - Laurie Metcalf's character - about the fallout from a scandal involving a sexual encounter between a young woman and Judy's politician husband, Bill. When Judy and Bobbie have an argument on a TV set, Bobbie becomes exasperated and say, "Jesus Christ, you married a gynecologist. A gynecologist who went into politics. Didn't that tell you something?"
That line always makes me gasp a little, so in my interview the other day with Barron I immediately brought it up.
"That's the playwright's savage sense of humor," she replied, alluding to Bruce Norris. "That line carries a charge because Bobbie, in an earlier, deposition scene, talks about using women's rights and women's health as part of a defense strategy."
This isn't Barron's first foray into Norris's universe: she was in a 2006 off-Broadway production of his work The Pain and the Itch. "Bruce is so good at presenting different sides of an argument very vigorously. Your allegiance is constantly shifting. It's very difficult to decipher where Bruce's own sympathies may lie." She added: "One thing is consistent, though. He likes taking down hypocrisy. Unlike some popular playwrights, he doesn't just take the hypocrisy of conservatives. He also takes down the hypocrisy of liberals." In this, Barron remarked, Norris is like Shaw. Barron, who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts and got involved early with the Boston Children's Theater, has a great deal of experience with brand-name playwrights like that Irishman. "After I finished my MFA at NYU, I did quite a bit of regional theater, and was lucky enough to be able to work in the classics."
Barron said that in her Norris assignments she has felt the need to be athletic. "You have to be very quick when you are doing one of his plays, you have to stay up on your game. And when you are working with actors like Laurie Metcalf and Jeff Goldblum, you have to be really on top of things."
But Norris isn't playing mere word games for the actors to enact. "The rhythms of Bruce's plays are completely orchestrated," Barron said, "but he's not just interested in style exercises. He writes real people."
Domesticated marks Barron's fourth stint at Lincoln Center Theater: she was part of What Once We Felt for LCT3 at the Duke and The Coast of Utopia andQED at the Beaumont.
"The Beaumont was a huge learning curve for me," she said. "When you're there you have to use your voice but not push your voice. You can't alienate yourself or the audience from the moment at hand." She continued: "Domesticated is my first time in the Newhouse. It's a wonderful theater, with its own challenges. You have to learn how to place your voice there in a particular way."
The Domesticated challenge has been not merely vocal. "More than any play I've ever done," Barron said, "the audience response varies wildly from show to show. One day, a line will get a big laugh. The next day, you can feel people finding the same line dead-serious. We're all hyper-aware onstage of the audience. But that's been a good thing. There are surprises every night."
Brendan Lemon is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com