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preview imageTHE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA?
by Edward Albee
Presentation House Theatre
North Vancouver
Oct. 26-Nov. 10
$9-$22 at 604-990-3474
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Warning: some people may be offended by the contents of this review and by the show itself. But rest assured, no livestock was harmed in the making of either.

It’s hard to avoid cracking jokes about Edward Albee’s 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning play, getting its local premiere in Kathryn Shaw’s fascinating production.  Albee’s own characters can’t resist the temptation, even in the midst of overwhelming emotional turmoil.

The Goat asks us to re-examine some of our deepest taboos.  In doing so it ranges from funny and sharp, shocking and disturbing, to grotesque and intellectually questionable.  Four decades after Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, America’s greatest living playwright again proves himself a potent theatrical provocateur.

I don’t think it’s giving much away to reveal the secret that Martin (Jay Brazeau) tries at first to conceal: he’s in love with a goat. Or as his wife Stevie, teenage son Billy, and best friend Ross all more bluntly put it, he’s fucking a goat. The f-word is prominent and unavoidable in this play which is so much about what is and is not acceptable in our physical and linguistic expression.

Martin is a successful architect (reflected beautifully in Pam Johnson’s living room set).  But his life is a house of cards, about to collapse on his 50th birthday. When friend and family learn of his liaison with Sylvia. all express their outrage as Martin attempts to explain that it really is love—natural, mutual, and innocent.

Stevie’s reaction, conveyed magnificently by Suzanne Ristic, alternates between sarcastic shock (“I’ve never had an affair all the time we’ve been married, not even with a cat or anything”), primal howls of rage and pain, and the smashing of many props. Ross (Kevin McNulty) is equally enraged, but his leering sexist comments make him a questionable arbiter of sexual morality. Billy (David Hurwitz) is gay. Is there so much difference, the play provocatively asks, between being a “goat-fucker” and a “fucking faggot”?

Of course there is. But Martin goes further, arguing that sexual attraction can be natural not just between men and animals but between fathers and their children. Why should bestiality, pedophilia and incest be off limits?  It’s unclear how much of this Albee wants us to take seriously and how much is simply Martin’s desperate rationalization.

The entire cast is exemplary.  Brazeau and McNulty together are smooth old pros at the top of their game, and Hurwitz is the angry, sweet, vulnerable kid to a tee.  But Albee demands of all the characters, especially Martin, extremes of emotion that can’t help seem manufactured, especially towards the end when the play turns to melodrama.

See this show with an open mind.  And love your pet—but not too much.

Jerry Wasserman