Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? is shocking, but not in the way the playwright intended | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Albee's The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? is shocking, but not in the way the playwright intended

Interrobang Theatre Project doesn't do much to redeem its revival.



Here's what's supposed to shock us about Edward Albee's much-acclaimed The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?: Martin, a successful, privileged, happily married family man, has fallen in love with a goat and fucks it regularly. But here's what shocks me: that Albee imagines we should care about this jerk.

It's not Martin's hircine proclivities that render him wholly unsympathetic. In this heightened upper-middle-class world, which veers inconsistently in and out of absurdity, bestiality is merely emblematic of taboo sexual practices and identities, writ so large the point can't be missed. It's no coincidence the playwright gives Martin an openly gay teenage son, Billy, who's entirely comfortable in his own skin, while his superficially open-minded father imagines (hopes?) the boy may be going through a phase. The none-too-subtle parallel between Martin's and Billy's sexual orientations—one thought abhorrent, the other thought normal (at least in the play's liberal New York society)—sets up one of the evening's central areas of inquiry: for roughly 90 minutes, Albee invites his audience to ponder where and how lines of normalcy and acceptability are drawn.

No, Martin is an irredeemable jerk because he insists everyone—including his wife, Stevie, who spends most of the play tearing herself to shreds over her husband's secret—must "understand." But infidelity is infidelity, goat or no. What's he expecting? Tom Jansson's choice to play Martin as an unflappable nebbish, largely indifferent to the pain he's inflicted or the vow he's broken, makes this Interrobang revival particularly difficult to swallow.   v

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