on May 12, 2003
When he accepted the Tony Award for Best Play in 2002, Edward Albee said he was grateful that there was room on Broadway for a play about love. In 2003 we can be grateful that Overlook Press has published The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia?
I was fortunate to see The Goat on Broadway both with the original cast (Mercedes Ruehl and Bill Pullman) and with the replacement cast (Sally Field and Bill Irwin). While both casts were superb, what was so satisfying was that the text allowed for two very different interpretations. Having now read the play, its greatness is even more apparent.
The story is a simple, though unusual, one: Martin, a successful and famous architect lives in domestic harmony with his wife Stevie and their gay son Billy. Then one day Martin falls in love with Sylvia, who happens to be a goat. Albee uses three scenes to tell his story: 1) Martin's confession to his best friend Ross about his new love; 2) Stevie's confrontation with Martin over Sylvia (whom she finds out about in a letter from Ross); and 3) the tragic, yet also hopeful (to me at least), conclusion.
In this play Albee has harnessed the wordplay of drawing room comedy to the intense emotions of tragedy. In their confrontations, Stevie and Martin switch from emotional outbusts to clever repartee and back again. They even have the wherewithal to compliment each other on their bon mots.
The audacity of this strategy and Albee's success in bringing it off, apparent on stage, become even clearer after reading the text. His intricate constructions and verbal virtuosity lend a musical feeling to the work, as if every shift of mood and emotion were part of a larger composition. Albee rings changes not only in the lives of his characters, but also in the perceptions and emotions of his audience. With this work Albee has given us a new hybrid form of drama: the drawing room tragedy. In this respect it reminds me of an earlier work, The Lady from Dubuque, which employed a similar strategy, albeit less effectively in my opinion.
This play also marks the debut "the son" as a speaking character. Sons have been part of Albee plays before: in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf he is imaginary; in A Delicate Balance dead and buried; in Three Tall Women he is a silent witness at his dying mother's bedside; and in The Play About The Baby, while he is both born and kidnapped, he is never seen (if he even exists in the first place).
But in The Goat Stevie and Martin's son Billy is a vital presence. For the first time an Albee family feels complete. The imaginary child has been given form and voice. Billy's coming to grips both with his own homsexuality and with his father's new love leads to a moment in the last scene that sent chills of delight and terror up and down my spine each time I saw it performed. Never less than theatrically potent, Albee achieves a new intensity here that was thrilling.
With The Goat Albee has given us not only one of his best works, but also one of the best plays of recent times. I must admit that I never thought any of his works could rival my affection for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But The Goat is its equal and leaves me eagerly anticipating where Edward Albee plans on next going.
on January 9, 2004
Edward Albee is without question the finest American playwright we've yet had, and all through The Goat, particularly in the second and third acts, he's in top form. Structurally, it's as perfect a tragedy as anything penned by Shakespeare, perhaps even by Sophocles. And structure and form are very much what seem to be at stake. What was Chagall's famous (partially correct) quote? Something like "It doesn't matter if it's a chicken or a barn door or a red blotch - just that something be there." In The Goat, Albee inserts a goat into a tragedy of marital infidelity, and manages, in spite of it's absurd nature, to be not only hilarious, but deeply moving. The oddness of it all is set off magnificently by the fact that Martin is as conscientious, rational, and aware of linguistic connotations as nearly any character you'll see upon a stage. And as always, Albee's dialogue is masterful, his touch deft, his ear damn near infallible. If I had to take one Albee play, besides V. Woolf this might be it.
on May 15, 2003
Welcome to the quagmire of human sexuality. "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" (a 2002 Tony Award winner for Best Play) places the audience in the jury box. The accused are Martin, his wife Stevie and their gay teen-aged son Billy. Albee challenges us to question the nature and meaning of love. Can love and shame coexist? Who defines normal? Who, or what, has been betrayed? Who decides which behaviors are acceptable? After the evidence has been presented and issues debated we realize that this play isn't about bestiality or infidelity, but rather intolerance, nonconformity and the arbitrariness of societal standards. Does Albee provide any answers? No, he insists, as he always has, that you find your own. A truly great play.