I started thinking last night about the lies that parents tell their children. These acts of deception start small, with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, but soon grow to serious issues: “Rover went to live on a farm, Timmy. He’ll chase rabbits all day and never accidentally maul your sister’s face again.”
In Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” the playwright explores the level of deceit that can rip a family apart. This dark comedy puts a new spin on the trite dysfunctional family narrative.
We first meet Martin (Andy Sandberg ’06), a 50-year-old architect at the pinnacle of his career, and his wife Stevie (Jennifer Jamula ’05), as they prepare for an interview with Martin’s best friend Ross (Max Broude ’07), a successful television producer.
Martin is strangely distant, and upon Ross’ interview, reveals his secret: He is having an affair — with a goat. The remainder of the play explores the consequences of Martin’s transgression, and the effect it has on his wife and their teenage son, Billy (Patrick Huguenin ’06).
This is not, however the typical story of a detached father, overly emotional mother and homosexual son that comprises far too much of contemporary family drama. Instead, by taking the basic elements of the family crisis to the absurd, Albee manages to ask probing questions about the nature of love.
Is a person only capable of fully loving one individual (or species)? Where can one draw the line between familial and sexual love? Though shrouded in the level of ridiculousness that accompanies bestiality, these are the issues that “The Goat” explores.
The entirety of the 90-minute play occurs in Martin’s living room, a simple space with a modern design that encapsulates the image of an architect’s home. The simple set, lighting and costuming shift the weight of Albee’s vision to the shoulders of the performers.
The actors fully utilize the space, manifesting their internal anguish and emotional destruction by tearing apart the room or futilely fighting chaos. As the distraught mother, Jamula viciously breaks plates and overturns furniture to visually convey her family’s demolition while Sandberg attempts to maintain order.
The actors take up their burden with ease, portraying the complex and interesting characters with an element of balance that is crucial for this play’s success.
Jamula shines in her portrayal of Stevie, alternating gracefully between the enraged throes of the cuckolded wife and the modern matriarch who is capable of solving her family’s crises. Huguenin too walks the tightrope between Billy’s tendency toward histrionics and the honest horror of watching one’s “normal” family come apart at the seams well. Broude as Ross, the catalyst of the crisis, develops the complexity of a role that may be discarded as merely supporting by a less ingenious actor.
Sandberg, though seemingly undecided about whether his character is disoriented, distracted or deceitful in the first part of the play, finally commits to a guiltily-distant playing of Martin. This choice works well and allows the audience to empathize with the character’s emotions. The play would have been improved, however, had Sandberg made this choice clearer towards the outset of the play, granting us more time to fully know the character. This difficulty might be explained by Sandberg’s decision to both direct and perform the lead character in the play.
On the whole, the show is incredibly entertaining, and promises to provide an evening of bizarre after-theater coffee conversation. When the person at the next table grimaces after overhearing, “No! I’ve never thought about having sex with ANY farm animal!” You’ll be glad you went to see “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?”