Irving — Most everyone in the audience of The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? knows the bestial, big secret of Edward Albee’s play: Martin Gray is having an affair with a goat. What they don’t know is how L.I.P. Service’s production under Shawn Gann’s direction will force you to see the humanity in Martin and the animal in us all.
It’s a pressure cooker of a production.
Set designer Jamie Kinser-Knight has cleverly arranged the 50 seats of the Rudy Seppy Rehearsal Studio on a split diagonal enabling an awkward acting area to become a brilliant sleight of hand entrance late in the play. Props master George Meek has put together the usual assortment of theater bric-à-brac that endeavors to pass for a home worthy of the youngest architect to win the Pritzker prize. They’re a sturdy assortment for a reason.
As longest friend, Ross (Jason Leyva), explains Martin (Van Quattro) has had a heck of a week, turning 50, winning the prize and landing the job of a billion-dollar super city. Ross is at their home trying to interview Martin for a television arts segment. Leyva plays Ross with smooth swagger and that assumed ease of entertainment industry professionals. It gives him a lot to push off of when Martin confides his current obsession.
Up to this point Van Quattro has created a doodling and distracted Martin. Morgana Shaw plays his, up to this point, one-true-love, Stevie. Their opening scene accomplishes the remarkable feat of creating something that is suddenly missing: the usual ease of their relationship. Shaw and Quattro navigate the misheard mumbles that everyone in a long-term relationship will recognize. Playwright Albee sneaks a lot of wordplay into these stops and starts. It’s a credit to the director for guiding the duo through the rocks to a playful resolution. Though we’re concerned about Martin, the family unit, including their gay son Billy (played with all due sensitivity by Garrett Reeves) seems strong.
Though Martin is our protagonist, the play is often more about how people react to his doings. This gives Shaw, as his jilted wife, the most to do. Whether it’s wicked wordplay or soul wrenching howls, she’s well equipped to give voice to her anguish. Quattro seems to realize his role as the watcher of his desire’s destruction as his Martin relies heavily on a soulful, agonized gaze. It is not until his last scene when he unleashes in defense of his son that we witness his true power.
The highest compliment that can be paid to this production is the palpable appearance of two other characters: Albee and audience. As the two- intermission/three-act play marches on, the audience’s reactions to Albee’s calculated ratcheting of his characters feels like a giant wrench on a stuck nut. Eventually enough force applied with just the right dramatic leverage loosens our collective constraints. Bestiality is only a means to deepening our understanding of all the emotions: love, jealousy, revenge, etc. The wide-eyed gaze of our shocked faces finally begins to take in the fullness of not only the characters, but each other as well. Everyone is deeper and wider than before.
Leaving the theater with a renewed respect of your fellow patrons?