Diana Lynn Small’s Westmont-mounted production of Mad & a Goat is a brutally funny depiction of one woman’s increasingly harried attempts to pay off crippling student debt. Paige Tautz and Heather Johnson give commanding, utterly in-sync performances as the shared main character, as well as hilariously biased representations of the other characters in the story. An exhaustingly physical show, Mad & a Goat is told in equal parts narration and movement. It offers situations on the brink of farce and an intimate connection with a melodramatic, conniving character. Exciting and raw, the play gives the audience permission to laugh at the darkness of human nature and find absurdity in the tepid evil and mild disaster of the average existence.
The Woman, who borrows $100,000 to pursue the assumed entitlement of a college education, feels the weight of her excessive loans. Tautz and Johnson play the type-A millennial who schemes to erase her debt and manifest the stylish life she deserves. She tries to donate her eggs to make a fast $8,000 but discovers that her blood contains traces of mad cow disease. Her parents awkwardly explain that she was adopted from a cult on a north-prairie goat farm, and the disease is most likely the result of a childhood goat bite.
The Woman is unsettled by the news but titillated by opportunity when she learns that her reward for living in the cult for a year is inheriting the farm, valued at $1 million. She moves to the farm and finds herself amid a culture in uproarious contradiction to her extravagant materialism. Tricked into marriage by an attractive cult member, she loses sole ownership of the property. She secretly has a baby, which she sells to the father for half the farm’s worth, and moves back to the city — debt-, child-, and fancy-free. Yet, despite the seeming lack of consequences, there are hints of emotional growth: The Woman wonders if she loves the goats and recognizes a fondness for the rube husband she’s been bamboozling. A tiny, frozen-tomato-sized ball of empathy ripens within her, and she’s moved to consider whether people see her as a hero or a villain, only to realize that no one is really paying attention.
Aware of each other within the same experience, Johnson and Tautz display the subtle evolution of a character unwilling to change. The Woman’s situation becomes increasingly bizarre with each desperate act as she attempts to erase the past by paying off her debt. The performers make a delightful mess of the stage and their character’s life, and escape it by covering it with a tarp, a cleanup job that doesn’t really clean. Mad & a Goat is a crisp, innovative production in which nothing is wasted or superfluous — the show has driving intensity of purpose, delightfully wicked humor, and nonstop physicality.