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by Aaron Carter and Bruce Norris

Before rehearsals began, Bruce Norris discussed Domesticated with Aaron Carter, Artistic Producer. An edited transcript of their conversation follows. Aaron Carter: Domesticated is framed by Cassidy’s school presentation on Animal Sexual Dimorphism. Can you talk about how you arrived at that approach? Bruce Norris: Ever since childhood I’ve been obsessed with strange animal facts—for example, did you know flamingos are the only animal that can drink water near the boiling point? Apparently they sometimes nest near thermal vents where water is extremely hot and have adapted to drinking it. And one of the things you notice when you’re zoologically fixated is strange reproductive behavior. So, when I knew I wanted to write a play about a relationship falling apart, I put it in the context of the animal kingdom. I thought since my interest in animals began in my childhood, it made sense for that to be our window, too. AC: By juxtaposing Bill’s behavior with animal facts, are you suggesting that we’re too precious between the distinction we try to draw between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom? BN: The fact that we try to draw any distinction at all strikes me as ridiculous. It’s a weirdly arrogant position to take that we are a special animal that doesn’t have habitual behaviors. Dogs lick themselves, pigs roll in the mud. We make war, we lie to each other, cheat, and have other really predictable behaviors. But people find it insulting and pessimistic to say humans have identifiable animal tendencies. It feels too deterministic to say we can’t improve ourselves—we certainly can technologically, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a better society handed down through generations. That’s assuming the next generation won’t be terrible, when it’s entirely possible they will be. AC: So you don’t see an inevitable upward progression of human culture? BN: I think we are—as far as I can tell—the only species aware of its own mortality, and I think “progress” is one of the nice stories we make up to help us cope with that awareness. To really change human culture we’d need to become different species—maybe selective breeding—or does saying that make me a eugenicist? AC: You’ve talked about how this play is more about a relationship than political machinations. Bill and Judy aren’t getting everything they need from their marriage. Do you think that’s a problem built in to the institution of marriage itself? BN: There are marriages that work and marriages that don’t. But they tend to be more alike than not. A lot of people have speculated to me that Bill and Hillary Clinton have some kind of “agreement” to overlook each other’s indiscretions—but if you think of couples you know… that can’t really be accurate, can it? So we make compromises, civilized agreements— reasonably, I think—that say we can’t behave the way some of our animal cousins do. Would Bill and Hillary be happier if they’d split up? It’s an unanswerable question. AC: I think that relates to the title of the play. Domesticated also invites me to think about its opposite: wild and untamed. Is that the kind of tension that you want to conjure?

BN: I feel like it should be called “Self-Domesticated.” It’s not like anyone else did this to us. We arrived at a set of agreements to restrict and domesticate ourselves so that we can live together. I think that’s for the best, but it does come with a price. AC: What kind of price do you think we pay? BN: Frustration. That we can’t live up to the ideals we’ve set for ourselves. That we have agreements and we keep failing at them. Possibly our expectations are too high. AC: There’s a tension we’re constantly under—on the one hand, there’s pressure of biology and hormones but on the other hand there is the pressure of this social agreement you mention. BN: Yeah, always. We can’t live as chimps. Most of us, that is. So we control those behaviors. But the pull from those instinctive behaviors is always going to tug against our ability to control and restrict ourselves. AC: Do you think Bill was wrong to follow his instincts? BN: Well, sure. He lied because he wanted two incompatible things. He wanted sexual attention from other women and he wanted to sustain his wife’s illusion that he wasn’t pursuing it. That’s not a good deal to strike. He knows his marriage will be over if he tells his wife he wants to sleep with prostitutes. So he values the safety of his marriage more than he values honesty. AC: Do you think that directing your own play will allow you to explore an aspect or approach that you didn’t get to in the previous production? BN: I was extremely happy with the production Anna Shapiro directed in New York so I’m basically copying everything she did. But because I’m not her, it’ll change without my even being aware of it. People like to say, “Don’t you think collaboration always makes art better?”—a lovely, democratic idea—but I’ve worked with some great collaborators and some boneheads. And unless you’re doing monologues in the subway, every theatrical act you undertake is collaborative. Every new person that joins in impacts the product in an important way. AC: I enjoyed auditions for Domesticated. I appreciate how well you put people at ease and how much care you put into the people that were coming through. Did that come from your own experience as an actor? BN: I had to stop acting because I despise auditioning so much. It’s demoralizing and servile and it makes you neurotic. Being evaluated based on your looks or talent or charisma is utterly demeaning. So I feel some responsibility to try to mitigate the worst aspects of the audition process. AC: You are our newest ensemble member. BN: I would point out that I’m not the youngest. AC: Do you feel like joining the ensemble has shifted anything about how you interact with the theater itself or your fellow ensemble members? BN: I see them regularly so I have to be nicer to them. I guess you could say it’s domesticated me.