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Friday, November 5, 2010

Playing the Goat

So tonight, we saw the premiere of the Nutley Little Theatre's production of Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?. The theater kindly donates the proceeds of each opening night to a different nonprofit, and The OASIS has been the beneficiary of their generosity a number of times, for which we promote the shows in return.

I don't know how many of the fairly full house (and, as the name would suggest, we're not talking huddled masses) were there because of us, but I have to suspect that if they were, a few of them might have wondered if we had read the script in advance. I thought being connected to the production of The Little Dog Laughed, with its brief nude scene, would have raised eyebrows, but I was not prepared for just how far outside the white picket fence we were going tonight.

Fortunately, we don't belong to a church that has its collective head in the sand. That said, this play is disturbing, even if you go in knowing what it's about. Without digging in too far, the male lead (Martin) is a successful middle-aged architect, husband in a good (and still passionate) marriage, seemingly okay with his gay teenage son (Billy). Picture of happiness in Suburbia, right? However, for reasons even he does not seem to understand, he has taken up with, yes, a goat, that he encounters while trying to find a weekend home in farm country, a request that ironically was made by his wife, Stevie.

His TV-newscaster best friend (Ross), set to interview him about a big upcoming project, immediately notices how distracted he is and drags the truth out of him, then subsequently takes it upon himself to share the news with Stevie by way of a letter. She -- quite understandably -- loses her mind, destroys the living-room, and takes off, telling him, “You brought me down and I am going to take you down with me!”

What was interesting to me was the way each character interpreted the situation. Ross implies that some other kind of infidelity would have been almost fine, but feels completely vindicated in betraying his friend's trust. Stevie seems more angered by each of Martin's repeated attempts to make his interactions with Sylvia (yes, the goat) sound like an actual relationship, wailing “How can you love me when you love so much less?”

Billy (the son), who darts in and out like a startled deer as his parents dismantle their marriage and their living room, finds that having the carpet of normalcy pulled out from under his home life is bringing more unresolved feelings to the surface. And Martin, bless his heart, knows on some level that what he's doing is wrong, but seems woozily unable to process why everybody is so focused on the physical act and is unwilling to see it as the natural expression of what he feels for the apparently irresistible Sylvia.

Even as they battle, Stevie and Martin share their normal compulsive debate about correct grammar and syntax. The laughter that resulted felt odd in the midst of such credible portrayals of pain and anger, especially from Stevie (deftly rendered by Victoria Steele, whom we loved in last year's And Miss Reardon Drinks A Little). They also had a habit of responding to the second-to-the-last thing someone had just said, by which A Certain Party said he was reminded of the repeated device in Airplane!:
"The cockpit?! What is it??"

"It's the little room in the front where the pilot sits, but that's not important right now."

I will not spoil the ending. As uneasy voyeurs to a situation beyond anything we will hopefully ever have to face, we left there feeling, as one says, "the need to bathe," to rid ourselves of some unpleasant residue. Which, I suspect, is exactly the effect Albee was aiming for.


  1. What? They couldn't do a nice "Virginia Woolf" instead? Albee is one of my very favorite playwrights, but I've yet to read this one. I do remember when it opened on Broadway, though, with the very likable Bill Pullman in the lead role. Albee is a button pusher for sure and now I'm going to have to get a copy of this script to read.

  2. We actually saw Virginia Woolf some years ago in Pittsburgh when a family friend starred in it. We met her backstage afterward and the only comment my dad offered was, "That must have been exhausting!"

    I'm in a bit of a Bill Pullman vortex lately: I was unaware of him (although I'm told he was a fixture on Northern Exposure) until last week when a character on Better With You made an oblique reference to him. Then doing my prep work for his play I saw the fact you referenced above (I noticed yesterday that Sally Field later played Stevie... that must have been something!). I'm waiting for my next Pullman encounter!