Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


"THE GOAT, or WHO IS SYLVIA?"

by Edward Albee
directed by Spiro Veloudos

Stevie … Paula Plum
Martin … Stephen Schnetzer
Ross … Richard Snee
Billy … Tasso Feldman

Back in the 1960s, Edward Albee had his champions and assailants: the former hailed him as the most significant playwright in the American theatre; the latter called his plays “sordid, sick, and cesspool deep” (to quote some jacket copy). Since Arthur Miller’s demise, Mr. Albee is the last Great American Playwright, a critical if never a popular success. The Messrs. O’Neill, Williams, Miller and Inge wrote with passion, anger, heart; Mr. Albee began in the Theatre of the Absurd and never severed his Absurdist roots. Ice still flows through his veins but such coldness has made Mr. Albee fashionable now as a caustic entertainer for today’s hip audiences, still pulling the strings on his puppets being passed off as characterizations. (A good theatergoer can name, off-hand, all of Mr. Williams’ major heroines but who can pin immediate handles to Mr. Albee’s creatures from the 1970s to the present day?)

These were my reflections after attending the Lyric Stage’s production of THE GOAT, or WHO IS SYLVIA? which, as you may have heard, is about a happily married man who confesses to having an affair with a goat named, well, Sylvia. Mr. Albee coaxes hearty barking from the audience each time the man’s wife, son or best friend declaims a variation of “But you’re fucking a goat!” but when Mr. Albee switches to weighty drama to stretch out the evening the house turns solemn, punctuated by nervous laughter. (The Idea is funny; the Reality is not.) If THE GOAT is a paean to bestiality, Mr. Albee skirts the issue (the goat-lover speaks of his obsession as a love that was meant to be); if Mr. Albee is crusading for acceptance of unconventional relationships, he is dated in his soap boxing (the man starts out being absent-minded but drops that mannerism once he comes clean); if Mr. Albee equates homosexuality with bestiality when the gay son passionately kisses his father on the mouth (i.e. we are all “sick”), then he risks giving offense; when the man says there is nothing wrong with getting an erection while holding a baby in one’s lap, then he risks being censored. I conclude that Mr. Albee wanted to write an Albee Play, chose another taboo to be smashed and got bogged down in mid-stream; had he left out the weighty discussions and cut right to the wife’s crime of passion, THE GOAT could have been a short, nasty Punch-and-Judy farce best played with the actors seen from the waist up --- to paraphrase the wife describing her husband’s four-legged mistress, the midsection of this GOAT drags in the dirt.

The evening has been coolly puppet-mastered by Spiro Veloudos and his quartet-ensemble flesh out their roles as best they can. Stephen Schnetzer, a last-minute cast replacement, makes a sexy, rumpled Lyric debut as the man and I was delighted to see how excellent Paula Plum can be when she isn’t playing Maggie Smith. Tasso Feldman makes the son understandably snippy and therefore sympathetic; as the Judas-friend, Richard Snee is too good to be repeatedly cast as blunt-talking mugs --- where is his Willy Loman with Ms. Plum as the salesman’s wife?

Brynna C. Bloomfield has designed a classy, if generic-looking, apartment where everything is so neatly on display that you sense things will turn messy, and they do. When the proverbial shit hits the fan, there is only a minimum of actual breakage --- after all, a month’s run would prove costly should everything onstage prove breakable.

"The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" (17 February - 18 March)
THE LYRIC STAGE COMPANY OF BOSTON
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 585-5678

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