Review: Intensity and Absurdity of THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? Tackled at Baxter Theatre Centre

By: May. 02, 2019
Review: Intensity and Absurdity of THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? Tackled at Baxter Theatre Centre

A play intended to shock the conservative and probe at society's typical imaginings of marital breakdown, the Baxter's latest offering of the award-winning THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? has an equally acclaimed director and cast behind it; making it stand in good stead as a must-see for those brave enough to approach what they cannot "unsee".

From the same playwright of WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf?, Edward Albee's later work of THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? famously implores audiences to explore their own morality as they are faced with what has been described as a "superficially ludicrous bestiality story" painted with profanity and provocation. Albee noted the inspiration of structure and language from that of classical Greek tragedy, while the play falls so easily into unimaginable tragedy that it can only emerge at times into farcical comedy.

Winner of the best new director at the Fleur du Cap Awards in 2016, Mdu Kweyama proves he has not lost his directorial flair by tackling Albee's play. He uses the Golden Arrow Studio's space very well and creates an unexpected connect and disconnect with the audience throughout THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA?. His choice of cast is also to be commended for this.

Lionel Newton plays middle-aged architect, Martin, who has taken a turn for the worst at age 50 and started a questionable love affair with some livestock. Opposite his effortlessly enjoyable stay-at-home wife, he appears slightly awkward, tense, even pathetic, at the beginning; perfect for his character arc. Newton develops as a formidable presence throughout the play; while still maintaining a pitiful undertone. Aside from stellar acting, one has to commend him on taking on such a mentally complex character to begin with.

While the storyline focuses on Martin's affair, his wife Stevie, played by Jennifer Steyn, is the one who truly captured my attention. In dialogues with Newton, it's hard to take your eyes off of her as she floats between comedy and tragedy expertly. She is so entirely comfortable and natural playing devoted wife and then scorned lover that there is a feeling one is staring through the window of their homely apartment, rather than watching the drama on stage. This is helped by her chemistry with Newton, as the two construct a perfectly convincing couple thrown into a wildly inconceivable situation.

Review: Intensity and Absurdity of THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? Tackled at Baxter Theatre Centre

Martin's best friend, Ross (Paul Savage), of two decades is arguably the catalyst for what unfolds in the 90-minute drama. There are moments where Savage moves with ease in his relationship with Newton, but there are also times when his lines feel a bit forced. The same can be said of Sihle Mnqwazana in the role of Martin and Stevie's emotionally volatile 17 year old son Billy. Believable at times, Mnqwazana appears self-conscious during more intense scenes, but shows great potential developing as a young actor.

The natural lounge setting where THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? takes place is appropriately complete with certain additions that work with the details of the play. It looks like a typical Observatory/Woodstock installation - making the perversion of THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? all that much closer to home and making one all the more uncomfortable with witnessing a breakdown of a typical domestic slice-of-life. Technicalities such as sound is minimal, but lighting can be mentioned for its organic accompaniment.

The play's subject matter is deeply upsetting, as A4 pages outside pre-warn patrons. THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? is not for the faint-hearted; but if you're interested in the darkly comedic macabre or simply want to bask in the acting glory of Newton and Steyn, then this production is worth a ticket.

Photo credit: Oscar O'Ryan

THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? will be performed at Baxter Golden Arrow Studio until 18 May 2019 at 7.30pm nightly, with Saturday matinees at 3pm. Ticket prices range from R120 (for block bookings of 10 or more), to R160 and R180. Booking is through Webtickets or selected Pick n Pay stores.