The Goat, or who is Sylvia?!

I have the remedy for you if you think you’ve been seeing theatre that is too comfortable, too bourgeois, too staid and safe. Go see American dramatist Edward Albee’s ‘The Goat, or who is Sylvia’! Albee’s play is anything but dull, boring, and complacent. Belvoir’s Company B theatre has brought Marion Potts’s State Theatre Company of South Australia’s acclaimed production of Albee’s controversial play to Sydney.
The play’s shocking scenario sees Martin, a straitlaced 50 year old highly successful New York architect and loving family man, suddenly, and inconceivably, find that he is addicted to carrying out acts of bestiality with a goat called Sylvia. Furthermore he claims to be in love with her!
The only thing that one has to do to have a special evening with Albee’s play is not to be phased by the taboo subject matter.
I’ve been thinking what I could compare this production to, to get you in the picture. I came up with the film ‘The War of the Roses’, that starred Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. Albee’s play has a similar emotional intensity, and brings up the same feeling, that one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and one ends up doing both, loudly!
Albee packs his show bag chocker full of goodies. There are numerous awesome, wonderfully written speeches. One of them still rings in the ear. Stevie, Martin’s aggrieved wife, delivers a stinging, knockout what I call the ‘you’ve screwed up for good this time’ speech to her husband. She also gets to deliver some great one liners, merciless in their sarcasm, to Martin, very much in the firing line, such as, ‘I bet you go cruising the livestock’.
The play drives on unrelentingly for 100 minutes, never running out of steam. There’s a key, defining sequence of scenes in the play’s second half, which basically unlocks the mystery of this play.
Martin and Billy, his gay teenage son, are having a heart to heat scene. His son tells him that, despite everything that has surfaced, he still loves him. They hug and, all of a sudden, his son kisses him passionately.
Martin’s best friend, Ross has come in to the house, and can’t believe what he is seeing. Martin picks up on Ross’s disapproval, and snaps back with some of his own personal philosophy. Paraphrasing, he tells Ross that sometimes in life things happen that aren’t rational, that seem to come out of nowhere, that aren’t connected or related to anything. He tells him that these ‘moments’ are just as valid as any other, and shouldn’t be judged.
Billy then backs up his father by saying that he just experienced one of those moments. He tells his father that for just one moment he was overcome by his sexuality, and forgot that Martin was his father.
Martin then goes on to tell another story of how he knew a friend who couldn’t believe it that when he was rocking his own baby in his arms, shortly after birth, he developed a massive hard on. How could this happen?! Things happen. That is all.
Marion Potts’s production does Albee’s provocative play justice. Her blocking of the action, in particular, was strong. Potts gets great performances from her cast. William Zappa, one of our finest dramatic actors, gives everything to his portrayal of Martin, as does Victoria Longley in her role as Stevie. Their confrontations were full of fire, their timing peerless.
Cameron Goodall was excellent in his portrayal of the son Billy, caught in the crossfire of his parent’s vitriol. The main element of his portrayal was a tightly wound nervous energy.
Pip Miller’s gave a satisfying portrayal as Martin’s best friend, Ross, a sophisticated, urbane journalist, who is out of his depth in the emotional quagmire that his friend finds himself in.
It is great when, theatre that is cutting edge, is well done. Marion Potts’s ‘The Goat, or who is Sylvia?’, was one of those magical occasions.