The first time I saw Edward Albee’s THE GOAT (OR WHO IS SYLVIA?) I was convinced it was a comedy… or an absurdist allegory at the least. The Lyric Stage had two of Boston’s best comic actors wrestling with Albee’s beastly conundrum. Can a man fall head over heels in love with a four legged creature? And what will his wife have to say about it! As I recall, the audience laughed almost all the way through.
Then I saw Bad Habit Productions’ deadly serious version this week (ending August 23rd) and I’m convinced it’s an out and out tragedy. THE GOAT won the Tony for best play in 2002 and boy is it prescient a decade or more later. When the wife finds out about her architect/husband’s bizarre paramour, she imagines she could cope with a human rival or a husband who likes to “try on her dresses” but this she cannot withstand.
Albee offers up everyone’s point of view (i.e. the friend, the wife, the husband, the son) except the title character. Why not? The wife suggests in one of her magnificent tirades, that it’s rape. If we’re to take the story as gospel and not as metaphor (Evangelicals still denounce homosexuality as “unnatural,” never mind sex with another species!), then someone has to worry about the sentient being who literally becomes the scapegoat.
So rather than proceed with my own tirade on animal rights, I shall opt for the symbolism in THE GOAT. The wife proclaims that her husband’s behavior is “outside the rules,” territory Albee traversed more than a few times. His plays were denounced. His homosexuality was condemned and rather than celebrate his work, no Pulitzer was awarded the year he was the finalist (for WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?). Talk about scapegoats.
Director Daniel Morris’ shattering production has at its core the remarkable performance of Veronica Anastasio Wiseman as the profoundly wounded wife. First you watch her heart bleed out through her pores; Then yours begins to break. Luke Murtha, also, as the completely overwhelmed son, wins our affection and our most tender sympathies, as his world slips into “a hole we’ll never be able to dig our way out of.” Morris and company have crafted an exquisite catastrophe from Albee’s sorrowful, penetrating script.