Genesis West Tackles a Risqué Tale
by Charles Donelan
Actor Robert Lesser, who plays the male lead in the upcoming Genesis West production of Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, laid it all on the line when he spoke with me recently about the production. “Maury [director Maurice Lord] felt like he won the lottery when he got the rights to produce this play,” Lesser said. “He almost stopped a production in progress to tell me about it — that’s how excited he was.” The Goat, which won a Tony and a Pulitzer in its Broadway incarnation, is a controversial tale involving a man, his wife of many years, and, well, er, ah, um … a goat. And yes, the story involves a goat in that way. Leslie Gangl Howe, who will play the at once understanding and disbelieving spouse in this bizarre love triangle, said the show is “explicitly about infidelity with a creature, but it is also about tolerance, and trust, and the question of how much you love someone.” Santa Barbara audiences will get a chance to see just how far this play goes with the idea when the show opens on Saturday, November 4 at Center Stage Theater.
Meeting with the two lead actors while they were in the midst of rehearsing this challenging piece was itself an intense experience. Both Lesser and Gangl Howe are clearly deeply moved by the play’s exploration of the extreme limits of human sexual behavior and marital understanding. Gangl Howe described her role as “the type of part that an A-list Hollywood actor would look for in order to go after an Oscar,” adding that “the processing time for this woman, the period that she needs to comprehend what her husband is up to, and that she needs to hammer it out with him — that’s all up-front in this show. It happens right there.”
In response to a question about how literal the play is about its subject matter, Lesser said, “It’s literal, but you can also expand on the action in the sense that you can see it’s in the shape of a tragedy. He’s a good man leading a good life, but he falls from on high. It’s not calculated, what he does — what happens to him is presented as just that, something that happened to him. So it’s a tragedy in that way.” Lesser also addressed the question of how Edward Albee handled making such a strange turn of events into believable stage action. “Albee created two intelligent people who are very well known to one another, and he allowed them to be willing to talk about it,” he said. “So not only are these two bright, successful people asking and answering these tough questions like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ they are also doing so in dialogue that is intelligent and even at times ‘ding-ding’ funny.”
The topics that The Goat raises go a lot further than the attention-getting central concept. There are also reflections on the many factors involved in any romantic love — among them, childhood, homosexuality, and incest. Hardly the type of thing that one would expect from the average evening at the theater, but then that is never what Genesis West has been about. Maurice Lord started the company to explore the further reaches of contemporary theater; with this play and the company’s second full season, Genesis West is doing just that. As Gangl Howe said, “With this one, Maury is really going for it. He’s even got the original Broadway-cast Sylvia!” To see what that could possibly mean, you will have to get to Center Stage within the next three weeks.
The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, presented by Genesis West, will be at Center Stage Theater from Saturday, November 4 through Saturday, November 18. Call 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org for more information.