August 12, 2005

Dark heart of goatness

Murray Bramwell

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia ?
by Edward Albee

State Theatre Company of South Australia.
Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre.
9 August, 2005 Tickets $ 16.70 – $ 49.
Bookings BASS 131 246.
Until 20 August.

Edward Albee writes that “every civilisation sets quite arbitrary limits to its tolerances”. And in the Tony award-winning play, The Goat, he tests those limits and tolerances in both his characters and his audience.

Martin is turning fifty. An architect at the top of his profession, he is devoted to his wife Stevie and his teenage son, Billy. All is right in their world until he confides to his friend, Ross, that he is in love with Sylvia, who (or is it whom ?) turns out to be a goat. Ross, rather like those well-meaning interferers in Ibsen, writes to Stevie to expose this “life-lie” and the play is an exploration of what happens when the unspeakable has been spoken.

In her program notes, director Marion Potts, remarks – “I am convinced that one thing the play is not about is bestiality.” She is absolutely right, and in this excellent State Theatre Company production she and an intrepid cast explore the complexities of Albee’s audacious text.

Set in Gaelle Mellis’s up-market apartment decor, lusciously lit by the ever-reliable Geoff Cobham, Albee’s play is part comedy of manners, with dialogue shimmering with wit and wordplay, and part Greek tragedy (which we are reminded, means, literally, “goat song”)

The laughs come readily, especially in the suavely managed opening scene featuring Martin and Stevie (William Zappa and Virginia Longley at their screwball best). But the strength of this production is the willingness of the director and performers to follow Albee’s premise to its dangerous depths. The brittle repartee is only the hook, like all that bickering in Who’s Afraid of Virginia
Woolf? Although the heart of this goat song is an even darker place than George and Martha can imagine.

When Longley exclaims – “you have broken something and it can’t be fixed,” it has a terrible finality, even as Zappa spirals further into explaining the inexplicable.

Nominated in this week’s Helpmann awards for his Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman last year , William Zappa has again shown acuity and courage in a difficult role. Virginia Longley is equally splendid and both are well supported by Marco Chiappi as the bewildered and outraged friend Ross, and Cameron Goodall, playing the gay teenager Billy without cliché or sentiment, and holding his own in a vortex of recrimination.

With The Goat, Albee asks an intriguing question about our own otherness and State Theatre has answered it with a hundred minutes of outstanding theatre.

“Dark heart of goatness” The Australian, August 12 , 2005, p.17

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