Friday, November 10, 2017

Soulpepper's production of The Goat is challenging but edifying

A quick plug for Soulpepper's production of Edward Albee's 2000 play The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia (or as the Soulpepper program had it, The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia, but then what's in a comma).
Written decades after Albee's heyday in the swinging 60s, and following an extended hiatus in his writing career, The Goat sees Albee continuing to push the envelope. He was always outspoken and often outrageous both as an author and as a person, and was for many years a champion of gay rights (although he did not want to be thought of as an "gay writer").
The Goat tackles subject matter like bestiality, incest and pedophilia in the most forthright of manners. The main plotline concerns a famous and sucessful architect who, at the height of his success and after 22 years of apparently happy marriage to a fiercely intelligent professional woman, falls in love (both physically and emotionally) with a goat called Sylvia.
Although there are elements of the Theatre of the Absurd of Albee's earlier works, and although there certainly is some comedy and witty wordplay, much of the play is devoted to the architect's attempts to get his family and friends to take his disquieting news seriously. And always, below the surface, there are more generalized questions asked about how even supposedly broadminded and liberal individuals can close their minds off to social taboos and moral grey areas. The difficulties faced by the couple's gay son is an obvious parallel.
So, what could have been an absurd, even farcical, story, actually turns out to be a poignant, at times harrowing and downright tragic, tale of a misunderstood societal outcast. There are distinct elements of Greek tragedy in the play, especially in the shocking final scene. Although there were a few members of the audience who insisted on giggling every time the architect's wife called him a goat-fucker, there wereay others who were clearly on the verge of tears, and there were quite a few sharp intakes of breath and sotto voce exclamations of "oh, God". Alan Aykbourne this is denitely not.
The Soulpepper production is, as usual excellent, and the two main characters are superbly played, one with judicious understatement and the other with extravagant vitriol and physicality. It's not an easy play, and one leaves the theatre feeling quite drained. But, hey, who needs Alan Aykbourne on a Thursday night?

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