Brilliantly performed, Edward Albee’s darkly comical The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? is not for the faint of heart. With a lurking elephant — or, really, a goat — in the room, the audience is thrown headfirst into the most emotionally intimate moments of a great marriage gurgling down the garbage disposal.
The goat in the room
Set in the perfect, cosy Nordic-inspired living room of the Grays, the drama unfolds. Middle-aged architect Martin Gray (Kevin Benn) has just been awarded the Pritzker Prize for architecture and has been invited to design a billion-dollar city of the future.
His devoted wife Stevie (Vanessa Poole) wants nothing more than to make his interview with Martin’s childhood friend and television host Ross (David Barrett) perfect. But Martin has a secret: after decades of fidelity to Stevie, he’s fallen in love with Sylvia.
And Sylvia is a goat.
The dramatic reveal comes early, with the play revolving around how Stevie, Martin, and their gay son Billy (Jeff Bond) negotiate the feelings of love, hate, betrayal and confusion at Martin’s new love.
Love to hate
The play is carried by Poole’s strongly nuanced portrayal of one half of a happy, devoted partnership sliding quickly into insanity. Even at the height of Stevie’s argument, Poole infuses her character with a sense of deep love and respect for her husband Martin. Poole plays her character not just as the distraught lover spurned, but as the doting, loving wife who still loves her longtime partner, but is driven mad by his bestiality.
Benn aptly balances Poole’s theatrics with a quiet insistence. At first, Benn’s interpretation makes Martin seem like a pushover, but we realise that it’s actually a quiet strength and stubbornness in refusing to admit his wrong. His new love is different, but not wrong, Martin insists.
Poole and Benn balance this tension of love and hate so delicately as to make the whole performance nuanced and believable. In the midst of all this, Bond plays a believable teenage son – an occasional reminder to his two sparring parents that they are responsible for a child.
Of course, all work and no play would make the affair pretty dull. Ross’s impeccable comedic timing as he sneaks into the aftermath of the living room fight lightens the mood considerably.
While The Goat does largely rely on shock value to kick off the drama, the strength of the play rests on the strong performances.
The only time we deviate from this is at the finale when finally this goat in the room we’ve all been dancing around becomes real.
As we said, The Goat is definitely not for the faint of heart.