Look, he f*cks the goat.
There’s no way around it. The play tells us so, very explicitly, pretty much up front. I went into The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?, currently in production by Interrobang Theatre Project, directed by James Yost, knowing only one simple fact about the play: he f*cks the goat.
But it’s one thing to know that’s what the play’s about and another thing entirely to experience it. I’d read Edward Albee in college, specifically The Zoo Story, which I thought was a genius commentary on social class. The Goat, then, could only be a similarly genius commentary by this recently-lost great American playwright.
And I was right: there’s so much going on in this play that centers on such an outrageous premise. Most compelling to me is Stevie, who has to deal with the reality that her husband Martin considers his love for Sylvia (the goat) to be on the same level as his love for her. Actor Elana Elyce captures perfectly the disbelief, betrayal, and rage Stevie feels upon learning of her husband’s highly unusual affair, as she destroys the home around her physically in the same way her husband has done psychically. I love a good plate-smashing onstage, and clever props work by Melanie Hatch allows not just plates, but a whole host of household objects to be destroyed night after night.
What Albee captures so brilliantly, too, is how intertwined the absurd and the darkly real can be. Stevie describes laughing when she first learns that Sylvia is a goat, and the audience laughs too, in the early scenes in which the fact of Martin’s unapologetic bestiality still seems like a well-constructed joke. But when the truth of the situation sets in for the characters—when Martin’s wife and child have to face the very real consequences of his choices—suddenly what was once a laughing matter becomes horrifyingly real. It doesn’t take much to connect that idea to…well, basically every news headline since the 2016 primary.
None of the roles in this script are easy, and Interrobang Theatre Project has pulled together a stellar cast. In addition to Elyce’s brilliant portrayal of Stevie, the audience is treated to Armando Reyes as Ross, Martin’s dudebro-ish best friend who suddenly switches to the deliverer of terrible news after Martin confides in him; Ryan Liddell as the angsty and conflicted son Billy, who gets caught in the cross-hairs of a host of forbidden desires; and, of course, Tom Jansson as Martin, without whose likeably dorky demeanor and earnest belief in the rightness of his actions, the whole story would fall apart. Kerry Lee Chipman’s set design is lovely in its simple elegance: it holds all the coziness of a happy home and all the claustrophobia of a box in which the characters are trapped.
The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? is not a play for the weak of stomach. But for those of us struggling to understand an increasingly unfathomable world and the baffling choices of so many with the power to effect change over our lives, it is vital viewing.
Location: Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge Ave., Chicago
Dates: Thursday, September 13 – Saturday, October 6, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays, and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 pm & 8 pm: Sundays at 3 pm.
Tickets: $32. Students $16 with ID and groups of 7 or more. Single tickets and season passes are currently available at The Interrobang Theatre Project website or by calling (312) 219-4140.
All photos by Emily Schwartz.