Jeanine Brown Photography
Happier times: Stevie (Nancy Sauder) and Martin (Steven Lambert) before you-know-who got in the way.
Getting Your Goat
City Lights looks at a different kind of love in Edward Albee's 'The Goat'
By Marianne Messina
SCAPEGOAT, Judas goat, Billy goat, getting your goat and the mythical goat/man, the lewd, earthy Satyr—Edward Albee tossed all meanings into the mix of his 2002 play, The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? Here's the short version of this City Lights Theater Company production: the tragic hero, Martin (Steven Lambert), is in love with a goat. His serial attempts to confess and gain forgiveness—first to his friend Ross (Michael Jerome West) and then to his wife, Stevie (Nancy Sauder)—form a narrative loop with the repetitive futility of Sisyphus. How do you break the cycle of guilt, shame and original sin? Well, judging from Stevie's reaction, you start with the china and work your way to the heirloom vases.
Teetering on an absurdist fulcrum between horrendous and hilarious, in fact, somewhat like a "Satyr play" (that bawdy Greek tragicomedy that often capped off a heavy program of tragedies), The Goat can make the lips curl—or as Stevie says, "Some things are so awful I have to laugh." The absurd element leaves a lot to interpretation. In this production, director Kit Wilder's choices generally favor lugubrious over capricious. "My little heart will be breaking in twain, as they say," Billy (Sam Krow-Lucal) tells his arguing parents. His apparent sincerity inspires one to squirm. No doubt Albee would be rubbing his hands with glee.
Once Stevie hits her first profound scream, somewhere in the middle of Martin's paean to Miss goat, the play's fevered pitch never moves far from primal agony. Martin tries to explain, "There was a connection there—I guess epiphany comes closest to it." Doh. (Rather, "Duck!") If Martin delivered the line with evangelical fervor, as some kind of wacky zealot, it would offer a relief valve for the shame and disgust thickening the air. But Lambert's Martin remains in a perpetual state of pleading. And that's the gem in this production—how each thud and splat of plate after potted plant hurled to the floor gives the audience an actual experience of the release mechanism.
In creating the couple's upscale living room and hard wood floors, set designer Ron Gasparinetti remarkably seems to have found extra space in the venue—space for characters to traverse while shouting and remonstrating. And stepping on strewn rubble. The bursts of palpable release in this absurd crunching of shards keep reminding us that abstracts like forgiveness and atonement are rooted in something very physical.
At its best, Albee's stealth humor comes out of nowhere and recedes quickly—such as when Stevie refers to her husband's activities as "cruising sheep," or when Martin responds to Stevie's probing questions with "I'm not going to discuss the details of our sex with you." Repeating phrases like "as they say," "no matter" and "nothing is connected to anything else," The Goat juggles numerous existential questions. What does objectivity show us about the mind? What is the relationship between context and judgment? Why do we deaden the life force? How do we find utopia in reality?
The play also focuses on love—love as a projection, love the social definition, love the decision. The ruddy-faced Lambert brings brilliant clarity to the latter questions. When Martin says, "She was looking at me with those eyes of hers, and I melted," Lambert calls up endearing facial expressions; you can read the affection right down to the gleam in his blue eyes, and in those instants he lays it all out: Love is a reflection of the lover, not the beloved. Lambert makes Martin most forgivable when he's most absurd. OK, so his wife doesn't see it that way. But it's Martin's words, not Stevie's screams, that linger to haunt the play's final image. I should probably add that "no animals were harmed in the making of this play."
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, a City Lights Theater Company production, plays Thursday-Saturday at 8pm, Sunday (May 27 and June 3) at 7pm and Sunday (June 10 and 17) at 2pm through June 17 at City Lights, 529 Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $20-$35. (408.295.4200)
Send a letter to the editor about this story.