Facing the unthinkable in Remy Bumppo’s ‘The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?’

Billy (Will Allan) and Stevie (Annabel Armour) digest some disturbing news.

“You’re f*cking a goat?!”

Edward Albee’s 2003 Pulitzer-Prize nominated play, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia, is a shocker. An idyllic, upper-class family is brought to their knees upon learning that the patriarch of the family — a middle-aged, award winning architect named Martin (Nick Sandys) — is having an affair with a goat.

His wife Stevie (Annabel Armour) doesn’t take the news well. Much of their fine pottery collection is sacrificed in the name of dramatic moment.

“How can you love me when you love so much less?” Stevie spits out in disgust.

But, as Albee has clarified in interviews, this is not a play about bestiality. It’s a play about happiness and normalcy shaken up by the unthinkable. The goat is merely a device to get us there; wake us up. To show us how educated people reconcile extremely upsetting and shameful situations.

I also think Albee, who’s gay, is saying something about the way most families reacted when a loved came out of the closet not too long ago: you might as well have been f*cking a goat. And, in a stroke of brilliance, Stevie and Martin have a gay son, Billie (Will Allan), whom they treat with respect and love.

Remy Bumppo’s production of this tricky play is mostly successful, if not as shockingly satisfying as the Goodman’s production in 2003. Sandys and Armour are wholly believable as the perfectly-paired couple — a couple who can complete each other’s sentences and toss out a Noël Coward reference without missing a beat.

Ok: so they’re a little pretentious.

But when the goat enters the plot, things get interesting, and Armour, a supremely intelligent actress, unravels quite effectively, her face literally turning red with rage. The confrontation scene between the two is horrifying and hilarious, evoking shades of Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which Albee is the first to poke fun at. It’s dramatic without becoming melodrama.

The following scene where the confused Billy confronts his disoriented father is problematic, however, mostly due to Allan’s oddly eccentric performance that nearly transforms the play into a farce.

But things soon get back on track in the final moments.

Without letting the goat out of the bag, the ending of this 100-minute one-act is shocking and repulsive and will make for engaging post-show dinner conversation.

“The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” plays through May 8 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue. More info here >

3 thoughts on “Facing the unthinkable in Remy Bumppo’s ‘The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?’

  1. WARNING this play could be hard to take in if you are at all dealing with issues of past abuse, incest, or anger issues. It was like a scab belng peeled off of wounds that already run too deep.

  2. I think Remy Bumppo missed the mark with this one. In the performance I watched I didn’t see any moments between Martin and Stevie that suggested they had actually ever been intimate with one another or had sex, recently or any time in their past. Set in another context, I could see these two actors playing mother/son and believing that more than the sexless husband/wife relationship I observed in The Goat. Without the foundation of a strong sexual connection between Stevie and Martin, it is hard for the audience to believe Stevie is actually jealous. Weirdly, sickly, darkly jealous. There is more to this play than hearing about how some seriously disturbed man made it with a goat. Bestiality is merely the backdrop, our jumping off point. The real gold in any script, I think, exists in how the characters move forward. My point…hard to care about how the characters move forward when all along the way you see no past.

    There are about one hundred thousand opportunities in this script for the actors to get a laugh. I was deadened to the story as I watched actors go for each and every one of those opportunities as though they were built into the script with the formulaic nuance of a TV sitcom. I don’t think the audience members were too helpful in this respect as they too often encouraged the easy laughs, jilting themselves of the true payoff of this script. The true riches in The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? I think, is in the observation and discovery of how each of us move forward and deal as well. What might we discover about ourselves when we are confronted with such dark subject matter? Essentially, the laughs here are earned best when the audience discovers them as afterthoughts. As in, “Wow, I just laughed at that. I just laughed at that totally disturbing image of a man making what he considers to be ‘love’ to a goat, and then to compare that love to his love for his wife?! What an interesting way for me to deal with that!” Instead, much of the audience I was mixed in with seemed pretty content with enjoying a night out at the theater as a means of release, rather than an opportunity for discussion or discovery.

    I look forward to seeing future productions of Remy Bumppo’s work with fellow patrons who want more than a nice night out at the theater, and who truly want to challenge the artists and production to dig deeper, and in doing so point the limelight at our own lives. Watching well trained actors act in well written scripts is boring. So what was missing from The Goat aside from any sex at all between Martin and Stevie? A curious audience I think. I think all of us were curious to see a play about a goat lover, but not all of us were curious about going too deep.

    1. Thanks, Steve, for reading my blog and sharing your thoughts on the show. Seems you’re making the rounds with this comment … :)

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