“The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?” Stuns at Arc Stages


Matt Bogart as Martin in “The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia?” (Liza Margulies, @arcstages)

Amine Kassaoui, Feature Editor

On the morning of his 50th birthday, Martin Gray seems to have it all.

His home is the idyllic suburban heaven. His wife, Stevie, is loving, devoted, and supportive. His only child, Billy, is intelligent, courageous, and well-brought up. Martin’s career is also thriving. He is a successful architect who just won a prestigious award for his work. His best friend of 40 years, Ross, is a trusted confidant. A man hitting the half-century mark could nary ask for more.

However, over the course of “The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia?,” Edward Albee’s 2000 play, Martin and, by proxy, those who love him the most, experience a fall from grace in light of a devastating revelation that sends the household swirling like an F5 tornado.

“The Goat” opened at Arc Stages in Pleasantville last week, in a riveting and uniquely moving production directed by Ann-Ngaire Martin.

Early on in the play, Martin, the character not the director, is interviewed by Ross about winning the prized award in architecture. But Martin seems peculiarly off. Ross picks up on this and investigates, ultimately poking and prodding Martin to confess to a six-month affair with the titular Sylvia. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill affair, no sir, because Sylvia is in fact a goat.

From there, things devolve as Ross writes a letter to Stevie alerting her of the news that for half a year, Martin has in fact been having sex with a goat (who lives on a farm Martin owns), unbeknownst to anyone.

Stevie confronts Martin in an extended tour-de-force of a scene, with occasional pop-ins from Billy, who is trying to process not only his dad’s bestiality but his own conflict with his homosexuality.

What makes the production so unmissable are the varying notes of pathos it successfully strikes. The show is at times hilarious, tragic, uncomfortable, tender, explosive, moving, and shocking, all of it played thoroughly straight. Albee’s writing isn’t trying to be ironic, and there’s no winking to the audience. The playwright treats this preposterous situation with clear-eyed sincerity, analyzing how far human beings are willing to go to quench their desires and the substantial cost that results.

A lot of the credit for making such a premise work goes to the remarkable actors who embody these roles. Matt Bogart’s titanic performance showcases a man right of out a Greek tragedy, whose precipitous fall actually evokes pity despite the inherent repulsion we initially feel towards him. Bogart never reaches or overplays, instead smartly playing Martin close to the vest, and imbuing him with a passion that somehow makes the audience understand his tortured love. The moment Bogart gets down on one knee and describes first making eye contact and falling in love with Sylvia is simultaneously appalling and somehow beautiful, due to the actor’s full immersion into the role.

Joan Hess’ Stevie is no less of a stunning performance, matching Bogart’s fire with equal gusto, and presenting the most sympathetic character in the show. During their confrontation, the rawness Hess exhibits gives us someone to root for, and her shrieks and fits of crying are heartbreaking. In a role that could have easily been overacted by a less skilled performer, the actress finds the right balance between incredulity and hopefulness.

Martin, the director not the character, also served as the show’s set designer, wonderfully capturing upper middle-class suburbia with the home’s living room. The set actually serves as a prescient metaphor for the Grays. Just as the family slowly disintegrates in the play’s one hour and forty-five minute running time, so too does the set, with Hess having a field day turning over furniture, breaking vases, tossing a chess board, and eviscerating a mounted painting.

The musical interludes, all classical pieces, also lend a certain gravitas to the proceedings, serving as a soothing entre-act from the madness, before we dive back into the deep end.

The rising action builds and builds until a shocking final scene in which Stevie re-enters the home. I will not spoil the moment, but suffice it to say that the audible gasp from the audience in the theatre was goosebumps-inducing.

“The Goat” is playing through Feb. 18. For tickets go to Arc Stages