Ed Harris is brilliant as Bill Perch, an ether-gulping, downer-popping dentist in Beth Henley’s southern gothic drama “The Jacksonian.”
He might be the scariest tooth man since Laurence Olivier drilled Dustin Hoffman in “Marathon Man.”
Not that he’s a torturer, though at one point he pulled a handful of tools from a kit bag and I thought it might be time to head for the exit.
“The Jacksonian” isn’t funny, like Henley’s Pulitzer Prize winner “Crimes of the Heart.” It’s grotesque and, in Robert Falls’s meticulous, throw-caution-to-the-wind staging, utterly compelling.
Kicked out of the house by his unstable wife, Bill has moved into the crummy motel of the title. It’s 1964 and we’re in Mississippi; violence permeates the air like humidity. In the motel lounge, a lizardly bartender keeps his glass filled while making time with the husband-hungry housekeeper.
Bill’s anguished teenage daughter alternately howls and cowers while trying to do her homework and evade the lizard’s leer.
When he’s in the bar, Bill is a sad sack with a conscience, protesting the casual, menacing racism all around. A murder has taken place nearby and lynching is in the air.
Upstairs in his room, however, Bill goes increasingly off the rails on a diet of laughing gas, pills, chloroform and the sexually callisthenic maid.
And that’s before the wife shows up, when things get really uncomfortable.
The veteran ensemble couldn’t be better: Amy Madigan as the unstrung wife; Glenne Headly as the available woman, Juliet Brett as the heartbreaking child and Bill Pullman as the perverted barman. It’s powerfully unsettling business from a writer whose head is still full of dangerous voices. Flannery O’Connor would be proud.
Through Dec. 22 at 410 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: ***1/2
Lincoln Center Theater’s intimate Mitzi E. Newhouse has been configured like a boxing ring for Bruce Norris’s “Domesticated,” with the audience surrounding the playing area and flat-screen monitors overhead.
Norris won the Pulitzer for “Clybourne Park,” his drama about race. The new play looks at political sex scandals, notably that of former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.
A teenage girl introduces us to her “science project,” example 1 being onscreen images of pheasants (males are polygamous but live only half as long as females). Example 2 is the press conference taking place on the central playing area, where Jeff Goldblum is a politician resigning from an unidentified office, as his stone-faced wife looks on.
A psychotic liar and dunderhead, Goldblum’s Bill is so unappealing we hope his downfall will come sooner rather than later. Laurie Metcalf, as his clueless, then wrathful wife Judy, is barely more likable.
And as his insufferably doting mother, Mary Beth Peil plays a character way too similar to the one she plays on TV’s “The Good Wife.”
But that’s not the only thing making “Domesticated” feel like an episode of that show filtered, under Anna D. Shapiro’s aggressive direction, through Neil LaBute’s acrid sensibilities.
Even when Bill and Judy get really down and dirty, nothing in “Domesticated” can compete with real life. We have been sooo here before.
At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **
Helder Guimaraes and Derek Delgaudio are playing-card magicians with humor, lightning-fast fingers and tricks that grow ever more mind-boggling under the fleet direction of Neil Patrick Harris.
Behind the pair on the stage is a wall of shelves holding 720 sealed little bottles, each containing an unopened deck of cards that will figure in the piece de resistance, when one of those cards in one of those bottles ends up where it was not. I can’t really say anything more except this:
Don’t dawdle, just go.
“Nothing to Hide” is at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-212-244-7529; http://www.signaturetheatre.org. Rating: ****
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(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)