BWW Review: Soulpepper's THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA? Shocks with Gripping Performances
"You don't understand," repeats Martin. You'll have to see it to really understand. Soulpepper presents Edward Albee's shocking Tony Award-winning play, THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA? (2002) Featuring an outstanding cast, including Soulpepper's Artistic Director, Albert Schultz, this production is proof that tremendous performances can sell any subject matter - no matter how taboo.
Set in the sophisticated, modern living room of married couple Martin (Albert Schultz) and Stevie (Raquel Duffy), and their son Billy (Paolo Santalucia), we are introduced to what seems like a perfect family. To celebrate both Martin's 50th birthday and him winning the esteemed Pritzker Prize, Martin's best friend Ross (Derek Boyes) arrives to film a documentary feature on the aging architect. During the filming, a distracted Martin admits to having an affair with "Sylvia", who just so happens to be - a goat.
Taken literally, the play is absurd. A grown man confesses his love for a goat, destroying his family in the process. But dig a little deeper, and some painfully poignant themes about humanity are revealed. Tragedy is at the core of this piece. Martin repeats over and over again, "You don't understand", as he attempts to relay a feeling, an emotion so incredibly real for him, but foreign and disgusting to everyone around him.
Director Alan Dilworth does a fantastic job building the emotional journey of the play. Martin begins the piece in a place of quiet stress, which leads to Ross questioning his mood, which unleashes the admission about Sylvia. Everyone falls apart at that point. Ross suddenly struggles to recognize his friend, Stevie questions every moment of her life with Martin, and Billy, already dealing with the trials of a homosexual adolescence, approaches a nervous breakdown. It's all very tragic.
The set, however, could not be tragic if it tried. Lorenzo Savoini has designed a pristine, tasteful, minimalist home for the family, creating the perfect dichotomy against the messy, destructive action on stage. Working nicely with Savoini's set, Kimberly Purtell's lighting is "just right". Purtell's design is never overbearing, however she was able to find a way to creatively highlight very intimate, emotional moments at the end of each act.
Speaking of very emotional, Albee must take a toll on the four actors portraying these roles. As the misunderstood goat-lover, Albert Schultz bears it all. Schultz' performance is like an erupting volcano, it stirs beneath the surface before exploding and destroying everything (or everyone) in its path. What Schultz does beautifully, is somehow, he makes us sympathetic toward behaviour that seems completely impossible to sympathize with.
The other three also search for sympathy, but are broken by the realization that their views of Martin have changed for good. Raquel Duffy begs for clarity as Martin's wife, Stevie. Duffy is terribly funny, even when the tone of the piece is terribly unfunny. Paolo Santalucia nails the anxious, excited energy of a young man raised by eccentric, intelligent parents. Derek Boyes is cold and snarky as Ross, his standoffishness ultimately helps Martin seem like a good guy.
So yes, the play is weird - bestiality is a central theme. Writing that word is shocking enough, listening to it discussed in some detail is another story. But the quality of the performances in Soulpepper's production makes it easier to uncover some of the play's subtext. The first-rate performances are professional enough that you don't spend an hour and a half laughing every time someone talks about Martin having intercourse with a goat.
THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA? is presented by Soulpepper and runs through November 18th at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District.
For more information and to buy tickets, visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/the-goat-or-who-is-sylvia/4084