Albee takes on beastiality with The Goat

by Beacon Staff • March 15, 2006

Edward Albee is still writing. His most famous play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, premiered on stage forty-five years ago and yet, at almost a rate of five plays a decade, Albee is still digging into the meaning of relationships and their value relative to an individual's real, important yearnings. His latest Boston premiere, The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia?, breaks the wafer-like notion of the relationship in half.

The reaction drawn most abundantly throughout the play was a kind of laughter usually reserved for only maniacs and ill-trained anesthesiologists. At the Lyric Stage, an upside-down pyramid of a theatre where the stage sits below the audience, the actors must play knowing that they are being looked down upon, literally.

The traditional stage is fit for morality plays or Kaufman comedies where the audience can only deserve to be looking up. This stage is the complete opposite and perfectly suited for the show: intimately, fearfully nuanced. The audience feels as if it's looking at this family through a snow globe.

As with Albee's other famous works, The Goat is once again a dissection of the human relationship and its victims. However, it is a first for one of his plays to feature a barnyard animal as the noose from which the central marriage hangs.

Martin (Stephen Schnetzer) is an extremely successful architect who, in the week of his fiftieth birthday, is awarded the Pritzker Prize in Architecture and named lead architect of a new city. We enter the living room of Martin and Stevie's (Paula Plum) home to find Stevie picking flowers for a vase. Martin walks in, dazed, and the two start a conversation about how Martin can't remember anything, including his son Billy's (Tasso Feldman) name.

The audience laughed greatly at the fully drawn characters and their witty ways. Of course, theatre-savvy audience members were in on the joke, knowing that eventually conversation would move from memory to bestiality. The reservation in the laughter was tangible.

In scene two, Martin is being interviewed for television by his best friend, Ross (Richard Snee), and the dam breaks. Martin reveals how a goat seduced him, how "those eyes, those eyes!" brought him to mercy, all the while allowing Ross to perceive Martin's new squeeze to be a human female. The audience is howling, waking the dead couples of Albee's past plays in jealousy of this one's comic absurdity.

Martin breaks delirium to describe his new mate to Ross via a picture he keeps in his wallet. Ross laughs, becomes perplexed, stares in disbelief and then accepts, articulating the audience's yearning to tear the roof off with his line: "you're f***ing a goat!"

In act two, Martin and Stevie's son makes his first appearance, peaking the comedy. The path seems to be set for the audience; a ripping comedy where friendship is sacrificed in the name of laughter . but the South Park guys can do that. Albee aims for a much higher plateau.

Billy is revealed to be a homosexual, after he and Martin have words (Billy: "Goat-f***er! Martin: "F***ing f****t!). Billy is the only pure character, as Stevie rapidly becomes unstable and violent, and Ross is vulgar, a tattletale and a "flowery" writer. Stevie finds out about Martin's affair through a letter from Ross, and the comedy leaves the stage.

The laughter remains, as Stevie trashes the living room and the objects within, but it's not funny; the laughter is defensive. At one point, Martin yells at his wife very coldly, reminding the audience that the actors haven't been "comedy acting" once throughout the play. This places the absurdity in perspective-we as an audience are laughing at very dark personal lives-these situations occur, only hardly ever so harshly.

The play's third act sheds the comedy and becomes possibly the most emotionally raw portrayals of human recognition and forgiveness-punctuated with closing action and line-this reviewer has ever seen. Albee seems to believe, and makes a very justifiable case, that there are basically two forms of humanity: the fa