by Edward Albee
Directed by Spiro Veloudos
Featuring Paula Plum & Stephen Schnetzer
Lyric Stage Co. in Copley Sq.
140 Clarendon, Boston / (617) 585 - 5678
through Mar. 18

Reviewed by Will Stackman

Triple Pulitzer prize-winner Edward Albee has either written the darkest comedy of his long career or the first postmodern tragedy, if such a form is possible. One suspects the latter, since the play's further sub title is ''Notes toward a definition of tragedy." Whatever this dean of the American Absurdists has written, the current production by the Lyric Stage Company rivals any of their previous award-winning efforts. Director Spiro Veloudos and a sterling cast drive the action along, from the brittle comedy of the play's first moments to the stunning and bloody climax, as revenge is extracted in the traditional manner.

Much of the credit goes to multiple award-winner Paula Plum as Stevie, the wronged wife in this odd triangle. The role is an interesting jump from her appearance this January as Inez in the ART's physically challenging production of "No Exit." This time the stage stays put and the action tilts out of control in Albee's equally existential play. She's supported by a carefully paced portrayal of Martin, Stevie's architect husband, by Stephen Schnetzer, who understudied the role on Broadway, appearing for part of the run, and reprised the part later in Washington. The Lyric was fortunate to cast him as a replacement for the original actor who left for personal reasons, even though it meant adjusting their schedule for his prior commitments in NYC.

The villain of the piece, Ross, Martin's oldest friend, is ably played by Plum's real husband, veteran local actor Richard Snee. Snee captures the many facets of this superficial character, a broadcast journalist who precipitates the tragedy that destroys the family life of his friends. The fourth member of the ensemble, Billy, Stevie and Martin's gay teenage son is played with abandon by BU grad Tasso Feldman, who captures the callow self-centeredness of youth, even as he's caught up in the dissolution of his world. In three emotion packed scenes, this cast goes from arch comedy to gut-wrenching drama, using language as the pivot for their actions.

The critical question of course is not who, but what is Sylvia? In terms of the plot, she's a goat, who makes a final gory tragic end in this Absurd drama. It's tempting to follow the author's clues in this piece and equate her with his own frustrations about sexual identification seen throughout his works. But there's probably a deeper metaphor, pointing to the central theme of tragedy since its inception. It's the dilemma of family, rooted in sexual desire and often destroyed by it. "The Goat" takes an ideal contemporary liberal family--somewhat wryly conceived--and subjects it to the ancient curse; "Those who the gods would destroy, they first drive mad." And of course in this third millennium, there are no gods.

The set for this excellent production is an architectural creation by Brynna C. Bloomfield, who captures the superficial nature of contemporary interiors, decorated with numerous breakables. Lyric's master electrician Robert Cordella provides a clear view of the action. Their wardrobe mistress, Shanna Parks gets to show her design skills by finding simple sportswear for the cast which complements their characters and the tones of the set. The ritual destruction of this idyllic scene by Stevie matches the emotional devastation Plum displays up to her exit at the end of the second scene.

It may be too early to decide, but "The Goat (or Who is Sylvia?" is possibly the equal of "A Delicate Balance," "Seascape," or "Three Tall Women," Albee's three Pulitzer Prize winners. It's certainly more economically written than his first great success, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," and deserved the Tony it received. Just as his 2001 script "The Play About the Baby" defies categorization, this play might be titled, "A Comedy about Tragedy." Whether :the Goat" will be seen as a harbinger of things to come at this late stage in the author's career may be dependent on fate as much as his obviously enduring talent to tantalize and provoke.

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