The Goat: A Living Room Drama with Strong Undertones of Livestock

Peter von Zahnd reviews 'The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?' which went up in the Barron Theatre on March 8th and 9th.

The Goat

 The Goat, or Who is Sylvia, one of Albee’s more recent plays, is rich in the scenic techniques which it utilises. The relatively linear plot maintains momentum with a string of twists: Martin, a successful architect who is extremely homophobic towards his gay son, reveals his recent liaison with the eponymous caprine to his oldest friend, a TV host. Said friend takes it upon himself to write a letter to Martin’s wife Stevie and a fairly large amount of verbal and physical violence ensues. This culminates in the revelation that Billie, Martin’s son, has nurtured an unconditional (and rather physical) love for his father, and the final presentation of the goat’s dead corpse on stage, is the resolution of the tragic action. The play was subtitled ‘Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy’, and, interestingly, classical tragedies originally opened on the sacrifice of a goat. Which could get a bit bloody. But then again, so does the play.Mandarr Brandi and her strong cast deserve praise for a keen sense of timing. The actors jumped on their cues with consistent energy, and the comedy rarely felt forced. The second act in particular, although a trifle long-winded, was particularly taut in its timing. In this regard the play felt vividly close to real-life drama, and the dialogue flowed with ease. The room-trashing scene, a bold and unabashed decision punctuated by comical fragments in the interaction of Martin and Stevie, had an equal sense of reality.That said, the comedic elements felt a little obvious and jaded at times, especially during the spiral into physical and sexual hubris of Act II. The audience seemed to be having a grand time and many a laugh, but I was left feeling that it may have been more interesting if the performance edged towards surrealism instead of the blatant human; this, perhaps, would mirror the feel of the script, with its absurd repetitions and occasionally incongruous phrasings.The Goat The cast at large was strong and convincingly energetic: as Martin, Peter Stanley offered a convincing depiction of a confused character – his line ‘It is an emotion no one can relate to’ was particularly potent – and aptly triggered questions of normality and cultural boundaries. His overall performance, however, somewhat suffered from visible acting mechanisms, although it was difficult to tell how much was affected for characterisation as opposed to an exposure of nervous energy. On the other hand, Edie Deffebach (playing his wife Stevie) felt remarkably natural throughout. Her progression from a joyful, passive housewife to a vengeful agent of the action (Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned) seemed controlled but never overacted. She tolls the knell of tragedy in her most striking scene  (‘You’ve brought me down, and I’ll bring you down with me’) in sharp juxtaposition to her final act of flinging the carcass of the unfortunate Sylvia onto the stageAs Martin’s friend Ross, Joe Cunningham put his comic talents and energy to good use, and in opposition to other critical review, I found his studied mannerisms well fitted to his part. His character progression did, however, feel somewhat forced, and his weak American accent detracted from dialogue quality. Finally, Jamie Jones (playing the couple’s homosexual, incestuous son Billy) offered a potent performance that could have benefited from a lessening of his tendency to move his arms back and forth as he delivered his most striking lines and a minimisation of his other ‘acting tendencies.’ Peter von Zahnd Images by Natalie English