Philadelphia Theatre Company'sfinal offering this season was the emotionally layered, verbally scintillating, envelope pushing "The Goat or Who is Sylvia?" by Edward Albee. Arguably one of our greatest living playwrights, Mr. Albee has subtitled his play, "Notes toward a definition of tragedy". The piece is deceptively simple - four characters, one living room, one crisis. Mr. Albee has been previously quoted in Show Business Weekly as saying, "I'm one of the believers in the theory that any play that really needs more than one light bulb and two bringing things down to essence."
This play successfully illustrates his theory for it is an exercise in masterful writing as Albee weaves a tragi-comic tapestry of the human heart. Why do we love whom we love? Why do we set boundaries on love? Why must we divorce our sexual selves from our social selves? Why does it embarrass us that all God's creatures are also sexual creatures? And why must the innocent always be sacrificed? These are the questions that you come away with and ask yourself over and over again. They are at once perplexing, disturbing, frightening and funny.
The plot involves Martin Gray, a successful architect, who admits to his friend, Ross, that he is having an affair with a goat. Ross responds by writing a letter to Martin's wife, Stevie, telling her of her husband's infidelity. The brilliance of the play lies in the fact that though we can predict the reaction of Martin's family to his admission of his new found love, we cannot predict the outcome of those reactions. Though we may not understand it, we never condemn Martin for his actions but rather pity him that his love cannot be tolerated in our current society. On the other hand, Stevie, his wife, the wronged party, the survivor, we ultimately despise for her cruelty. And when she drags the butchered body of her husband's slaughtered love up the stairs to their apartment in a bloodied bag - we are a bit dumbstruck. What kind of pain could cause such an action? How can you murder the love of someone you love and claim that you still love them? Like the Greek Medea, intellectually we can dissect her anger but never fully understand the depth of her rage (though there have been many Medeas in this world throughout the ages).
John Glover's intense and passionate portrayal of Martin Gray the obsessed lover is perfectly balanced by Elizabeth Norment's stoic and outraged depiction of his betrayed wife, Stevie. Bradford William Andersen's sensitive and comic delivery as their son is the soft mortar that keeps these two rigid individuals linked together. And Tom Teti as Ross Tuttle, a documentary filmmaker, provides the sarcastic righteousness of the do-gooder who brings down the Gray household.
In painting Martin as a sympathetic character whose love is pure in its simplicity and force, Mr. Glover helps to illuminate the quandary of the play. And in praise of Mr. Glover's verismo,
during the scene where Martin confesses his affair to Stevie (who responds by breaking all the glassware in the apartment), Mr. Glover wrapped what appeared to be a bloodied handkerchief around his hand. In a true testament to his acting, I could not tell whether he actually had cut his hand or this was stage business. I found out later that right after the performance Mr. Glover had to go to the Emergency Ward to get stitches for his wounded hand that would not stop bleeding. Apparently it was a clean handkerchief that became soaked with blood as the scene wore on. I ask you, what more can an actor give for his art than his own blood?
And not enough can be said about Elizabeth Norment's crackling and rapid fire delivery of Mr. Albee's scalding dialogue. From her mouth words are like rapier slashes - sharp, swift and sanguine. In knowing her target, her aim is true. Like a shark smelling blood, she circles around Martin, crashing (probably beloved) pottery to the floor, overturning furniture and wreaking havoc on their once perfect artistic nest - for the nest has been fouled.
And the nest which Stevie destroys was astutely designed by Todd Rosenthal. It is a warm, artsy apartment -- the cold brick walls of a city loft offset by sleekly comfortable, modernist furniture. Original oils hang on the walls and objects d'art and books pepper the shelves. It is an intellectual but inviting space where new and innovative ideas would appear to be welcome.
Director Tim Vasen has done a fine job of assembling this cast whose ensemble acting makes the play seem almost too short -so engrossed are we in its progress. And Mr.Albee has outdone himself by not writing a denouement. For, after the final climactic scene, we the audience are left to ponder what happens to poor Martin after the butchery of his love. A play that makes you think - what a novel idea!
As an addendum I must add that there was an amazing range of opinion about this play. There were some people who were offended. My aunt who is in her Seventies, a theatergoer and a practicing Catholic thought it was, in her words, "Stupid!" Then I met a Born Again Christian male actor who thought it was, in his words, "Brilliant!" - one of the best plays he's ever seen. Now to me that is simply fascinating and all I can hope is that Mr. Albee is at the beach or up in the mountains this summer writing us yet another piece as provocative, as brave, and as uncompromising as this one.
Return to Home Page