Man Loves Goat

The Chance's 'The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?' explores what happens when a seemingly decent man falls for the udder woman

Type bestiality into Google (oh, like you’ve never done it before), and some 27 million sites are ready for your perusal, the first 10 of which either define the term, report on a bestiality farm in Washington, or offer undoubtedly entertaining videos or photos.

As disturbing, uncomfortable and downright unbelievable as it may seem, bestiality exists.

Yet, with the occasional exception—the 2007 film Zoo that caused a sensation at Cannes; James Dickey’s disturbingly lyrical 1967 poem, The Sheep Child; and allusions in shock-and-gore sagas such as Twilight and True Blood—bestiality remains a taboo the arts have mostly shied away from. Hell, even the Greeks with their incest, infanticide and cannibalism never directly broached the subject onstage.

Goat? Gotten
Doug Catiller/True Image Studio
Goat? Gotten

Which makes Edward Albee a fitting choice to craft the Great Bestiality Play, his 2002 The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? A three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist, Albee has long delighted in placing educated, well-off Americans in situations that reveal the brutal impulses lurking beneath their apparently well-tempered surfaces.

The Goat fits that scenario, even if it is Albee’s funniest play and, strangely, most human account of an apparently decent man gone way beyond the pale.

The news that Martin, a 50-year-old, brilliantly successful architect who seems wholly in love with his wife, has been screwing a goat comes about 20 minutes into the 90-minute play, so revealing it here isn’t exactly a spoiler. Because while that behavior certainly drives the play, Albee isn’t concerned with psychoanalyzing or vilifying Martin or making the audience understand why a seemingly healthy, morally virtuous man would even countenance hooking up with an animal.

That doesn’t mean the other characters in the play—his wife, best friend and 17-year-old sexually confused son—don’t want to know. They take turns attacking his behavior as sick and pleading with him to help them understand what could drive him into another creature’s udders.

Martin does have an explanation—one the other characters and, I’m guessing, the vast majority of the audience, have trouble comprehending: He and Sylvia (the goat) are in love. It’s an ecstatic, rapturous love that possessed him six months ago when they locked eyes on the crest of a hill 60 minutes outside the city. Martin was scouting for a country home for him and his wife; instead, he found a four-legged soul mate.

And while the people in his life react in wholly understandable ways—shock, anger, disgust—Martin holds true to that love, with disastrous results.

In this Chance Theater production, the first time an OC theater has mounted The Goat, director Marya Mazor skillfully guides her excellent four-person cast through a play that could easily veer into the tawdry or the ridiculous. But Albee wrote the play straight, and Mazor delivers it straight. Though these characters are impossibly smart and quick-witted, they are also keenly human. Even though they realize their lives with one another are irrevocably changed, it’s keeping their pain and confusion real that makes the journey rewarding.

As the protagonist, Jonathon Lamer’s Martin isn’t just a likeable goat-fucker: He’s also eminently sympathetic. Though what he’s done is illegal at best and morally unconscionable at worst, Martin’s confusion as to why he’s a pariah when all he did was fall in love is absolutely convincing.

Karen Webster’s turn as his wife, Stevie, is just as believable. Stunned by the realization that the love of her life, the most decent and compassionate man she has ever known, has conducted a six-month affair with a goat obviously goads her into anger and remorse. But Webster handles even the most violent and painful moments with a grace and wit that only underscore her character’s abiding love for her husband.

Mike Martin, as Martin’s best friend, Ross, and Kevin Tobias, as his son, Billy, also contribute strong, fully fleshed-out performances that, again, suggest their characters’ admiration and respect for Martin as a father and artist—even though, at the end of the day, he’s still been screwing a goat.

It’s a crisply executed, fully professional treatment of a play that in no way will change the way you feel about bestiality. Abhor or adore it, The Goat really isn’t about that. It is an examination of the nature and possibility of true love in a morally relativistic world, a theme that a myriad of playwrights have tackled in countless ways over the years.

But never quite like this. . . .

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at the Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 777-3033; www.chancetheater.com. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Oct. 24. $22-$35.

This review appeared in print as "Man Loves Goat: What happens when a seemingly decent man falls for the udder woman?"

 
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