BWW Reviews: Thou Shalt and Shalt Again in Askins' PERMISSION
In pro wrestling and stage combat there's a hard and fast rule; the person being hit is the one in control. The same applies in Robert Askins' daffy and irreverent comedy of Domestic Christian Discipline, Permission, where devout and loving couples take pleasure in practicing the Bible's prescribed husbandly dominance over wife with strict discipline and over-the-knee spankings.
"It's not a sex thing. It's for Jesus."
Tony-nominated for his current Broadway hit, Hand To God, Askins once again introduces audiences to the type of folks he would encounter in his rural Texas upbringing.
Businessman Zach and his lawyer wife Michelle (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe and Nicole Lowrance) are a dynamic couple with big dreams, unlike their friends Eric and Cynthia (Justin Bartha and Elizabeth Reaser); he's a college professor with little ambition for advancement and she's an aspiring novelist whose drinking problem isn't helping her writer's block.
When Zach and Michelle have Eric and Cynthia over for dinner, the host couple's behavior turns uncomfortably odd and the guests are eventually flabbergasted to accidentally discover Michelle bent over Zach's knee, ready to take her punishment.
The two credit the lifestyle for their success and marital bliss and it isn't long before Cynthia suggests to Eric that they experiment with it a bit.
Though pleasing Jesus is the main objective, there are various reasons why the two couples partake in the practice, but the one that stands out is the belief that if a woman allows her man to be a dominant aggressor at home, he'll be the same way in his career and become a better provider.
Unfortunately, Eric's confidence increases so much that he becomes a dominant aggressor with his nerdy student teaching assistant (Talene Monahon) who, it turns out, is ready to party.
Clocking in at only an hour and forty minutes, including intermission, Permission nevertheless takes a while to get to points we all know are coming; the expected laughs that come when one mixes pain and pleasure in the pursuit of spirituality (the actresses wear protective padding and the smacks are loud).
Lowrance's subtle manipulations help keep things interesting and Reaser's exacting comic knack makes some of the most innocuous moments bizarrely hilarious, but while director Alex Timbers' slick production hits all the funny moments, the play can use more texture to build the kind of empathy needed to get to the scripted message of the final page.
Still, at this point Permission has enough to send audience members home delighted, offended or perhaps in the mood to experiment.