BWW Reviews: SET Explores Comedy, Tragedy, and Taboo with THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA?
"But you screw one goat..." -punchline of a very old joke
Bestiality, despite the moral guardians who insist it is the next inevitable stop on society's slippery slope into degradation, remains strictly taboo in our culture. This probably has something to do with our sense of superiority: humans are kings of the evolutionary hill, and anyone who feels a need to slake his or her lusts on other species must be incredibly depraved, desperate, or backwards to do so.
Martin, the protagonist of Edward Albee's dark comedy The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? is none of those things. As played by Steve Emily in the Springs Ensemble Theatre production, Martin is intelligent, affable, kind, and sophisticated. He is still deeply in love with his wife of twenty-two years Stevie (Amy Brooks) and tries very hard to do right by his gay teenage son Billy (Christian O'Shaughnessy). He is a successful architect, and despite a distracted nature and strong hints of mid-life crisis seems fairly normal. He is, in short, the very last person you would expect to be having intimate liaisons with a goat.
Indeed, so ridiculous is the notion that the characters-and audience-can only laugh at it. But it's no joke, and before long the laughter is replaced by shock, betrayal, and rage. Martin has crossed a line that his family and friends cannot condone, and Albee seems to ask not whether or not what Martin did was wrong, but whether this seemingly unforgivable act has really made him worse than his serially unfaithful peers, or those who are more concerned with the appearance of morality and respectability than the actual practice of it.
Emily makes Martin likable and sympathetic in spite of his proclivities, giving a sincere, earnest quality to his inexplicable passion for the mysterious Sylvia. He displays a sweet, sexually charged chemistry with Brooks in the early scenes that serves as a sharp contrast for the painful scenes that follow. As Stevie, Brooks dominates the majority of the production. Though some of her violent outbursts feel a little too choreographed, the betrayal and anger she expresses at her husband's peculiar infidelity and the breakdown of her "normal" life are genuine, raw and compelling. Likewise, O'Shaughnessy gives Billy a sensitivity and maturity beyond his years as he confronts his father.
The subject matter of The Goat is strange and unsettling, and SET's black box space forces the audience to get up close and personal with it. A lot of people will find it uncomfortable. That's probably all the more reason to see it.
Humorous, heartbreaking, and horrifying, THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA? plays now through June 29th at Springs Ensemble Theatre, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm and and Sundays at 4pm. For tickets, call 719-357-3080 or visit www.springsensembletheatre.org.