Home / Music & Arts / Justin Bartha and Elizabeth Reaser get 'Permission' to spank

Justin Bartha and Elizabeth Reaser get 'Permission' to spank

Slap-happy. Elizabeth Reaser, Justin Bartha, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe and Nicole Lowrance in 'Permission.'

Slap-happy. Elizabeth Reaser, Justin Bartha, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe and Nicole Lowrance in ‘Permission.’

IN “PERMISSION,” two couples seek to solve marital woes with Christian Domestic Discipline. Followers of the real-life practice believe that it’s okay — godly, even — for a husband to whip his naughty wife.

No kidding. Spanking for Jesus is grist for a provocative and hilarious comedy about power and what makes marriage tick. Too bad “Permission” isn’t it.

This scattershot show written by Robert Askins and directed by Alex Timbers — talented theater pros — is undercooked and undisciplined.

In Waco, Tex., the union of Eric (Justin Bartha), a milquetoast professor, and his wife, Cynthia (Elizabeth Reaser), a wannabe novelist who guzzles wine and “Matlock” reruns, has curdled. Discontentment oozes.

By accident they discover that their BFFs Zach (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe), a businessman, and Michelle (Nicole Lowrance), a lawyer, rely on CDD. Initially appalled, Eric soon puts Cynthia over his knee and wallops. OMG! Bliss blooms. For a while.

Askins peppers his script with references to CrossFit and kale. Characters say things like “That just happened” — a tired phrase that needs to be retired now. While up-to-the-minute, the script is also sloppy.

Worse, the main theme is quickly abandoned when the spanking goes from a religious rite to merely being about sex kinks. Eric’s eager secretary (Talene Monahon) is an obvious, and useless, plot device.

Even the simplest dramatic moment is mishandled: During a fight, Cynthia hurls plates that don’t break. Who uses plastic plates in a kitchen fight? It just underlines how fake everything is. That includes when things turn full-force farce late in the game.

There’s some compensation watching the dauntless cast in action. Everyone’s fine, and Reaser, recently of “Mad Men,” is even better.

It’s impossible not to draw comparisons to Askins’ Tony-nominated comedy “Hand to God,” which ran last year at the same theater. That early work packs consistent laughs. In “Permission,” giggles dry up — and like all the spanking, that hurts.

jdziemianowicz@nydailynews.com

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theater ,
elizabeth reaser

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