on May 12, 2003
When he accepted the Tony Award for Best Play in 2002, Edward Albee said he was grateful that there was room on Broadway for a play about love. In 2003 we can be grateful that Overlook Press has published The Goat, or, Who is Sylvia?
I was fortunate to see The Goat on Broadway both with the original cast (Mercedes Ruehl and Bill Pullman) and with the replacement cast (Sally Field and Bill Irwin). While both casts were superb, what was so satisfying was that the text allowed for two very different interpretations. Having now read the play, its greatness is even more apparent.
The story is a simple, though unusual, one: Martin, a successful and famous architect lives in domestic harmony with his wife Stevie and their gay son Billy. Then one day Martin falls in love with Sylvia, who happens to be a goat. Albee uses three scenes to tell his story: 1) Martin's confession to his best friend Ross about his new love; 2) Stevie's confrontation with Martin over Sylvia (whom she finds out about in a letter from Ross); and 3) the tragic, yet also hopeful (to me at least), conclusion.
In this play Albee has harnessed the wordplay of drawing room comedy to the intense emotions of tragedy. In their confrontations, Stevie and Martin switch from emotional outbusts to clever repartee and back again. They even have the wherewithal to compliment each other on their bon mots.
The audacity of this strategy and Albee's success in bringing it off, apparent on stage, become even clearer after reading the text. His intricate constructions and verbal virtuosity lend a musical feeling to the work, as if every shift of mood and emotion were part of a larger composition. Albee rings changes not only in the lives of his characters, but also in the perceptions and emotions of his audience. With this work Albee has given us a new hybrid form of drama: the drawing room tragedy. In this respect it reminds me of an earlier work, The Lady from Dubuque, which employed a similar strategy, albeit less effectively in my opinion.
This play also marks the debut "the son" as a speaking character. Sons have been part of Albee plays before: in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf he is imaginary; in A Delicate Balance dead and buried; in Three Tall Women he is a silent witness at his dying mother's bedside; and in The Play About The Baby, while he is both born and kidnapped, he is never seen (if he even exists in the first place).
But in The Goat Stevie and Martin's son Billy is a vital presence. For the first time an Albee family feels complete. The imaginary child has been given form and voice. Billy's coming to grips both with his own homsexuality and with his father's new love leads to a moment in the last scene that sent chills of delight and terror up and down my spine each time I saw it performed. Never less than theatrically potent, Albee achieves a new intensity here that was thrilling.
With The Goat Albee has given us not only one of his best works, but also one of the best plays of recent times. I must admit that I never thought any of his works could rival my affection for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. But The Goat is its equal and leaves me eagerly anticipating where Edward Albee plans on next going.
Welcome to the quagmire of human sexuality. "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" (a 2002 Tony Award winner for Best Play) places the audience in the jury box. The accused are Martin, his wife Stevie and their gay teen-aged son Billy. Albee challenges us to question the nature and meaning of love. Can love and shame coexist? Who defines normal? Who, or what, has been betrayed? Who decides which behaviors are acceptable? After the evidence has been presented and issues debated we realize that this play isn't about bestiality or infidelity, but rather intolerance, nonconformity and the arbitrariness of societal standards. Does Albee provide any answers? No, he insists, as he always has, that you find your own. A truly great play.
on January 9, 2004
Edward Albee is without question the finest American playwright we've yet had, and all through The Goat, particularly in the second and third acts, he's in top form. Structurally, it's as perfect a tragedy as anything penned by Shakespeare, perhaps even by Sophocles. And structure and form are very much what seem to be at stake. What was Chagall's famous (partially correct) quote? Something like "It doesn't matter if it's a chicken or a barn door or a red blotch - just that something be there." In The Goat, Albee inserts a goat into a tragedy of marital infidelity, and manages, in spite of it's absurd nature, to be not only hilarious, but deeply moving. The oddness of it all is set off magnificently by the fact that Martin is as conscientious, rational, and aware of linguistic connotations as nearly any character you'll see upon a stage. And as always, Albee's dialogue is masterful, his touch deft, his ear damn near infallible. If I had to take one Albee play, besides V. Woolf this might be it.
on December 7, 2013
Edward Albee is probably one of the best modern American playwrights we have. The breadth and depth of his understanding of the White, Middle-Class family is astounding. This play explores some themes common in his repertoire, but also explores some new areas that are quite fascinating.
on May 17, 2005
There are quite a few playwrights today that have mastered the craft of dramaturgy, and perhaps even enhanced it through linguistic prowess and ingenious plot development. But "The Goat" does something few plays today can do: give us a sense of the ritual nature of drama and its ability to evoke catharsis by dealing with a taboo theme in such a way that allows us to stay riveted to the action despite the underlying threat to our social and personal homeostasis. Like the best of Aristolean-influenced drama, this play presents a family embroiled in a predicament that slowly and inevitably must lead to tragedy, and, although we witness an excrutiating dilemma, we stay riveted to it because the hand of fate shows itself to be the master of our lives, a master from which we cannot disengage. Just as Oedipus or Antigone is doomed by their transgressions of societal rules, the "house" of a middle class family is doomed for reasons that are all too human and all too base, but owing to the playwright's skill with tone, dialogue, dramatic structure, and character development, keeps us watching as the lamb or "goat" is led to slaughter.
Edward Albee's "The Goat" or Who Is Sylvia is, to the issue of Gay Marriage, what Arthur Miller's The Crucible was to McCarthyism. Albee manages to show an audience exactly what true love is and he uses a middle class WASP family with a homosexual son and a goat to do it. The end of the play has a hurt and confused wife holding forth a dripping burlap sack full of hacked up pieces of a dead goat as her husband weeps into his hands. Not only does it address the issue of how dare we define love, but Albee even is brazen enough to use a goat, which of course was the homophobic reaction to the issue of gay marriage in the first place: "If we allow this what is next? Do we allow a person to marry a goat?"
This is ludicrous and anyone with a little common sense should see that to jump from same sex to bestiality is both crazy and propaganda. But let's play with this bit of stupidity for a moment: Imagine a young woman taking her goat home to meet the folks for the first time. "Mom. Dad" she says timidly, "This is Billy."
In 1955 there were actually Senate Congressional hearings where individuals were seriously asked about their connections with the Communist Party and asked to give names of those with whom they worked who might just be "red" as well. Lucille Ball, married to a Cuban, managed to escape ruin because Ball and Arnaz ran one of the most powerful studios in Hollywood. No one was hiring Lucy; she did the hiring. And no Senator was going to tell Americans not to watch the beloved Lucille Ball. Others were not so lucky and were blacklisted, never to work again. Some managed to escape. Shirley Jackson and Stanley Edgar Hyman were members of the Communist party as students at Syracuse university in the 1930'[s/. they escaped persecution but one of their very talented writer friends wasn't published until the early 70's when Woody Allen hired him as a screen writer. Ralph Ellison was published first. Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible- tightly researched and accurate (ironically, Shirley Jackson wrote a book called The Witchcraft of Salem Village but for different reasons) and America saw how the Red Scare was a witch hunt- smart America anyway.
Sadly, The Crucible remains relevant as it could now go on a double bill with Albee's The Goat. One, defining the purity of love using our homophobic culture's bad taste as a well produced metaphor and the other, Miller's Witch hunt that could easily occur with anyone from the Jews in Europe to the Gays in America.
The other thing these plays have in common is that they both won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; the authors collected multiple Pulitzers, a plethora of Tony Awards and a production life that will go on in Regional Theatres, community theatres, colleges and High Schools for hundreds of years.
And sadly, they will likely both remain relevant. Because if a German is not allowed to marry a Jew and is shot for having a relationship with one, then why can't a man be shot for having a relationship with another man? Genocide still goes on, as Paul Simon wrote in "Old" and Al Gore pointed out to the UN (One can use Google Earth and look down upon the vast concentration camp at Darfur Sudan) as we all stand in line at Wal-Mart on Black Friday 2012, where, according to the news, there were only three Wal-Mart handgun incidents. It takes very little and a Holocaust sneaks up on us while we're worrying about our gas bill and snow tires.
My Country `tis of thee. To think about ourselves and ignore if we are free.
on September 19, 2015
This book was required for my contemporary drama class. I never actually read the books that are assigned, But this book was interesting from the very beginning. I think, made it more interesting is the fact that it is actually a Play and you get to vision all the things that are going on from small subtitles the give.
on February 24, 2009
The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? is a testament to the ethical irony that 1960's folk-singer/songwriter, Phil Ochs, expresses in the introduction to his song, "Love Me, I'm a Liberal":
"In every American community there are varying shades of political opinion. One of the shadiest of these is the liberals; an outspoken group on many subjects, ten degrees to the left of center in good times, ten degrees to the right of center if it affects them personally..."
The sentiment expressed in Ochs' statement is an aphorism for what can be recognized as a central idea in The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?.
Varying degrees of deviance are attributed to those activities which are presented in this play as sexual perversion and marital infidelity: adultery, homosexuality, incest, and bestiality. All four of Albee's left-leaning upper-class characters allude to their perspective of the forgivable or acceptable nature of both adultery and homosexuality in them or in others. While our fifty-year-old tragic hero, Martin, and his seventeen-year-old son, Billy, struggle with their respective bents, the antagonists, (faithful wife, Stevie, and adulterous best-friend, Ross,) are unable to see either perversion as anything but morally twisted and devastating beyond comprehension.
Martin confesses to his lifelong friend, Ross, of his love for Sylvia, a young goat, including the detailed telling of how it was the moment that he stopped on the "crest" of a hill, (Albee's clever allusion to the literary device,) that he first noticed Sylvia, and sped downhill to meet, fall in love, and begin his affair with her. As New York Times critic, Ben Brantley, observed in his review of the Broadway production of the play, Ross' recognition of this hamartia in his friend is a catalyst that activates his own perverse morality and compels him to bring about the major turning point of the play by exposing Martin's betrayal to his wife and son.
"It is Ross, in whom Martin unwisely confides, who sets in motion the events that will destroy this family. As written and as portrayed by [Stephen] Rowe in the unctuous manner of Gig Young in a 1960's sex farce, he is the smug embodiment of liberal hypocrisy. Cheating on your wife is one thing, as Ross sees it; doing it with a goat is another. So he writes a letter to Stevie in which Martin's secret love is laid bare."
Tragedy, or "goat song", especially with respect to crises of sexual identity, is a theatrical form that continues to become increasingly relevant to members of contemporary audiences; especially those with a memory of the events of the sexual revolution in the last half of the twentieth century.
As the debate surrounding the definition of sexual identity continues, "The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?" is sustained as a valuable device to raise questions regarding what versions of sexuality ... and marital sanctity ... our political culture considers more or less deviant in relation to all other "known knowns," "known unknowns," and "unknown unknowns".
on March 17, 2014
I've read this and seen it at The Goodman Theater in Chicago. Beautiful play! Just as fun to read as it is to see done by great actors.
on April 10, 2013
If you thought 'Whos afraid of Virginia Woolf?" was a groundbreaking play, you have seen nothing yet! This play breaks all social taboos and transcends more than just emotions. A must read!