As soon as rights became available to Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?” Canadian theaters jumped on the bandwagon, with Ottawa’s GCTC snagging the national premiere. Montreal’s Centaur Theater and Edmonton’s Citadel Theater will follow close behind.
Presenting a Tony Award-winner by one of North America’s premier playwrights is, in many ways, an obvious choice, particularly when this drama is touted as a play that stretches the limits of societal tolerance and taboos. But would “The Goat” have made it from page to stage if the author had not been Albee? Doubtful. While it has overtones of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” taken one step further, it is questionable if that step is worth taking, just to shock audiences.
On the other hand, initial Canadian reviews have been generally positive, preoccupied with the new threshhold Albee had crossed. The playwright himself has commented little about metaphors and philosophy in “The Goat,” illuminating his prodding of societal values only by saying the drama is “about four humans and a goat and it involves relationships.”
The relationships are between highly successful Martin (Stewart Arnott); his wife, Stevie (Dixie Seatle); their son, Billy (Peter Mooney); and Sylvia, Martin’s extramarital passion.
Martin has trouble accepting Billy’s homosexuality, but everyone has trouble accepting Martin’s six-month love affair (not merely physical involvement, he insists) with Sylvia.
Society accepts midlife crises and the occasional affair with a younger woman. But Sylvia is a goat, and bestiality is far more difficult to handle.
Eventually, spilling the blood of the sacrificial goat opens the door to Martin’s acceptance of his son’s sexual orientation, his own purging and perhaps the rebirth of the marriage that bestiality almost destroyed.
See “The Goat” as a plea for tolerance of homosexuality. See it as a metaphor for the need for acceptance. View it as an example of another step down the slippery slope of stripping away moral boundaries and taboos.
Like “Virginia Woolf,” “The Goat” offers brilliant interchanges, is bound to engender strong views and gives the opportunity for actors and directors to demonstrate their mettle. Also like the earlier play, it forces audiences to confront their values, leaving a bad taste behind it. But it is unlikely to affect tolerance levels, if that was indeed the underlying purpose.
All that aside, director Lorne Pardy and his cast have delivered a powerful production of this flawed drama, albeit one in which it is almost impossible to identify with the conflicted soul at its center.
Particularly touching is Mooney as Billy, who sees his comfortable family life disintegrating before his eyes almost literally, as his mother rushes around smashing ornaments and slashing pictures.
As the distraught Stevie, Seatle is passionate and powerful. Arnott is appropriately confused about his involvement and society’s lack of understanding about his feelings, as seen through the eyes of his friend Ross, played by Dennis Fitzgerald as a basic man’s man.
But even an excellent production cannot elicit empathy for the last taboo.