Breaking All the Rules

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, presented by Genesis West

At the Center Stage Theater, Saturday, November 4. Shows through November 18.

Reviewed by Bojana Hill

When the unthinkable enters the lives of a happy, highly accomplished couple, how do the husband and wife speak about it? With difficulty surely, but speak they must, even if their words are like daggers. In The Goat, that which is awful in the eyes of most people has given joy and happiness — nay, even love — to Martin. A successful architect and a loving family man, Martin has fallen in love with Sylvia, who happens to be a female goat. Edward Albee’s award-winning play thus delves into unexplored regions of the human psyche with brutal honesty. This outstanding production at Center Stage Theater will not leave you indifferent. It is as deep and tragic as it is absurd, humorous, and cynical.

Certainly there is nothing new about a middle-aged man at the pinnacle of his career having an affair. Perhaps he senses that his life will be all downhill from now on. Or is it arrogance that makes him willing to risk everything for this fulfillment? No reasonable answer will do. While wife Stevie enjoys her last moments of blissful ignorance, the audience knows full well who (or what) the “mistress” is. At the height of its dramatic irony, The Goat is still fairly light and very funny. Witty puns and sophisticated allusions abound, showing the couple’s regular style of communication. Their home is elegant and artistic and all is well in their perfect world. Or so it seems.

When Martin finally manages to utter his truth, the plot takes a violent turn. The rest of the play is a thunderous explosion of Stevie’s fury and sarcasm, reminiscent of the caustic slings-and-arrows exchanges in Albee’s earlier play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The dialogues are masterfully constructed, ricocheting from a diminished husband to a wife-turned-tragic heroine. The most shocking scene involves their son named Billy (!), thus completing the ultimate fall of a hero whose tragic flaw infects every pore of his family life. The ending is superb — unexpected yet fitting, if not cathartic.

Both Robert Lesser and Leslie Gangl Howe are brilliant. As challenging and provocative as the play is, it can be easily understood. “All we needed to be happy is not to screw up. You screwed up!” says Stevie, hurling the accusation in Martin’s face. Since life does not go always according to plan, and decent beings act in inexplicable, strange ways, we may conclude that at some level, this play is deeply familiar.

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