Permission and Its Mission


Go see Permission at the Lucille Lortel, and you’ll be rushing to your computer the moment you get home.

You’ll want to Google to see if the organization – nay, movement – that playwright Robert Askins is describing could possibly be real. You know it can’t, but just to soothe your worries, you check.

And to your surprise and astonishment, you’ll see that Askins told the truth. There IS such a thing as Christian Domestic Discipline where the husband has the power to spank his wife if he feels she’s done something wrong. Moreover, she must accept it because he’s the head of the household and she knows that he knows best.

Let’s go to their website — – lest we get it wrong: “Most new Head of Households (HOH) have a tendency to only spank. They may say that you as the wife ‘have been naughty and deserve to be spanked.’ The spanking is only half of what a good HOH will do. Using his commanding voice — not a louder voice, but one that demands respect — will help with the submission of his wife.

“The use of commanding voice allows for the HOH to set the tone of the punishment. He may command his wife to get across his lap, for example. This is done by the way he speaks. The HOH must use a voice that commands respect and prompt action, and submission of his wife. If used properly, the submissive wife knows right away to obey the orders given and not to hesitate.”

And the rationale behind all this? Genesis 3:16: “Your desire shall be toward your husband; and he shall rule over you.” 1 Peter 3:1: “Likewise, wives, be in subjection to your own husbands.” Ephesians 5:21-27: “For a husband is lord and master of the wife.”

Yup, people are again trotting out the world’s biggest best-seller and using it as an owner’s manual. The Bible gives guys the presumed right to decide if their wives should be punished, to use Christian Domestic Discipline’s favorite acronyms, OTK, BOL and ATT. For you neophytes out there, that means “over the knee,” “bent over lap” and “across the thighs.”

Now that you’ve regained consciousness from fainting, we can discuss the play, which is not as a good as it could be. Askins, the author of Broadway’s current Hand to God, starts out well enough, showing us a dinner party for Eric and Cindy hosted by Zach and Michelle. But when Zach increasingly finds fault with Michelle, he asks that that they be excused for a moment. They head into the kitchen but are gone so long that Eric and Cindy open the door a crack and see Zach solidly spanking the amenable Michelle. “It’s not sexual,” Zach later explains. “It’s religion. It’s for Jesus.”

Yes, we’re talking Looney-Tunes here, but a more realistic scenario is in order. Wouldn’t Zach and Michelle postpone punishment until Eric and Cindy were on their way home? Spanking, even without any vocal protests or grunts, is still a loud activity and an easy one to identify by sound.

Good drama asks for “orchestration of characters,” which means that a play should be populated with people of different points of view. Would that Eric and Michelle have stayed appalled by what they’d seen, but Askins decides that having them mirror their sudden mentors would be funnier. His slant suggests that way down deep, all men want to spank and all women want them to do it. Perhaps there is a God up there who knows that for sure, but the play would be far more compelling if a genuine debate raged instead of monkey-see, monkey-spank.

Askins effectively skewers the blind faith that some people need to have in order to have structure and guidance in their lives. He also deserves credit for including a situation that many playwrights ignore: one couple is off-stage, the remaining one gets involved in loud chaos, and when the others return, they fully admit that they heard everything. How many times in comedies do playwrights expect us to believe that if a door is closed, no one behind it can every hear anything?

Under the cast listing in the program is “Place: Waco. Nice clean suburban Waco.” That may be a purposeful joke, in that Waco is sometimes mispronounced as “Wacko.” Still, one expects Texans to speak with Southern accents, and there are very few lines that sound authentic here.

Aside from that failing, the cast is solid. Lucas Near-Verbrugghe and Justin Bartha confidently show that Zach and Eric each likes to cite Scripture for his own purpose. As Michelle, Nicole Lowrance has an arms-akimbo staunchness that she’s chosen the right path in life, but Elizabeth Reaser has more to play: a woman who really wants to be disciplined but has a hard time telling her husband it should be just what the master orders. There’s also a complication from Jeanie, Eric’s secretary, who had a great deal of hero-worship (read: lust) for the boss. As amusingly played by Talen Monahon, she’ll come into the free-wheeling finish that director Alex Timber builds to a solid finish after well-pacing the previous ninety minutes.

Many a theater company would have passed on Permission not necessarily because of its message, but because of its set demands: many are called for, and one is only seen for a matter of seconds. Give MCC Theater credit for putting the money into a project in which it believes and for hiring the always excellent David Korins to make every set just right.

All night long, the audience roared with laughter, be it from genuine amusement or outraged embarrassment. The crowd especially enjoyed the great retort to the line “You’re my right arm.” At the very least, Permission is a slap-happy semi-hit.