'Goat' powerful, stylish, shocking
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic
By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
It's giving nothing away to state up front that Edward Albee's "The Goat or Who is Sylvia?" is, indeed, the story of a man who has sex with an animal.
He says it early in the first scene and his wife laughs it off, countering that she'll stop off at the feed store after having her hair done.
In fact, much of the early dialogue provokes a great deal of laughter as the incredulous possibility is dismissed by the man's friend, his wife and his son. But the moment comes when the characters and the audience must question why they have been laughing.
And at that moment, the play turns from a bad vaudeville farce to an exploration of epic and primal forces that seep up uncontrollably through the thin veneer of civilization. Its shocking final scene suggests themes explored in "Equus" and "Buried Child."
Albee's alternate subtitle is "Notes toward a definition of tragedy" — a weighty goal for a play that audiences find difficult to understand, and that some walk away from before the final curtain.
Nobody walked out early during The Actors' Group opening-night production. On the contrary, the audience was noticeably reluctant to leave their seats. Obviously, director David Farmer and his small cast had got it right.
John Wythe White is excellent in the demanding role of Martin, a successful and honored architect who truly loves his wife, but is adrift in feelings he is unable to control. As distracted and unfocused as an adolescent absorbed by his first crush, White guides Martin along the perilously narrow path between the pathological and the absurd.
Trying to explain himself by recreating the impact of "those eyes," White achieves the improbable — he makes Martin's situation substantive instead of ridiculous.
In the same way that Martha was coarse while George was sensitive in Albee's more familiar "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?," Victoria Gail-White (who writes for The Advertiser) plays the spouse in this play with the direct ferocity of a woman barely in control of her passion and her sanity.
Much like George and Martha, this husband and wife psychologically batter each other with dialogue. And while they might be played with different personality traits, their character paths are strong, true and inevitable.
Once exposed, the matter of Sylvia must be dealt with. Intelligent and articulate minds are brought in to bear witness. The situation is examined first in words — groping for parallels to give footing to acts outside the bounds of normalcy. But ultimately, high emotion must reach its tragic inevitability.
Director Farmer also takes the supporting role of best friend — a confidant who precipitates the couple's inevitable confrontation. Thomas Smith is caught up in the storm as their gay son.
The gritty action plays out on the coolest, most sophisticated and highly edited set yet to grace the playing alcove in TAG's tiny Yellow Brick Studio. Designer Andrew Doan gives it style and detail to support the characters and starkly underscore their primal motives.
"The Goat or Who Is Sylvia?" is not an easy play, but one that hits home on a gut level not often found in modern theater.