Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? (Dobama)

Brilliantly acted ‘THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA?" at Dobama

Edward Albee is noted as the major American playwright of the Absurdist movement. He probes society by examining the disjointed, the improbable, the outrageous. His themes often investigate dysfunctional family units (‘WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?’), the outcasts (‘BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE’) and life as it should be but isn’t (‘THREE TALL WOMEN’). One of his more recent plays, ‘THE GOAT OR WHO IS SYLVIA?,’ which won the Tony Best Play award and best play recognition from the New York Critics Circle, the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk, is now being staged by Dobama.

The story line concerns an architect who has just received an international prize, been awarded a lucrative contract and celebrated his 50th birthday. In this period of euphoric success he also has been forced to confess to his wife and son that he's involved in a sexual relationship with a goat (yes, I said a goat), which will probably destroy his marriage, his career and his life.

The play, a black comedy, was hailed in its Broadway and London openings as having "extravagant wit!.” It was heralded as “the best Albee has turned out in his long career!." In spite of these raves, it is not easy to watch. It features many language games and grammatical arguments in the middle of catastrophes and existential disputes between characters. It contains visual and verbal actions which can easily incite strong reactions from an audience.

Though it appears to be about sodomy (in this case zoophilia), it may be Albee’s way of confronting the attitudes of some segments of society concerning homosexuality, among other societal issues. Albee, himself a homosexual, has used this theme in other plays, but never to such an extent.

This is one of Albee’s most blunt plays, especially in the unnerving conclusion. What you won't find in this script is the subtlety of earlier Albee plays. The goat metaphor, for example, carries over into even the use of Billy for the gay son’s name.

Dobama’s production, under the adept direction of Joel Hammer, is superb! It is as close to a flawless production as you are likely to see. The acting is nothing short of mesmerizing. Each character is clearly and consistently defined and developed.

Tracee Patterson as Stevie, the wife/mother, gives one of the finest performances ever seen on a local stage. She underplays with superb control, she lashes with a vengeance, she is so real that she carries the audience through every range of emotion. This is a performance which can’t be fully appreciated through explanation, it must be seen!

Scott Miller (Martin, the husband) is nearly Patterson’s equal. Though Albee’s writing sometimes gives the character little motivation and some of the lines are obtuse, Miller soars above the script and develops a clear characterization of a befuddled yet purposeful man in the midst of trauma.

Scott Espositio, who tends to be cast in light-weight rolls to reflect his youthful pretty boy looks, finally gets a chance to show that he is a real actor. His portrayal of son Billy is masterful. He is especially strong in the final scene in which his whole life collapses. His tear-filled realization speech, and its aftermath, shows acting maturity.

Charles Kartali as Ross, Martin’s best friend is excellent in the earlier scenes, but shades his performance a little too much in the last act. It may be the nature of the script, but his pontificating in the play’s denouement has a somewhat hollow ring.

Trad Burns’ set works extremely well. No credit is given to the prop person, but whoever it was, he or she deserves a special curtain call. This is one very difficult show for which to find and supply the necessary items.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Dobama’s ‘THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA?’ is one of the finest acted productions I have seen in my many years of reviewing the Cleveland theatre scene. Though not emotionally easy to sit through, this is a production everyone interested in theatre MUST SEE!