The Phoenix Theatre nabbed the 2002 Tony Award winner for Best Play, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia by Edward Albee, to open their 2003-’04 season. And what a disturbing opener it is.
Lawrence MacGowan and Diane Kondrat in ‘The Goat’ at the Phoenix Theatre
The play is about a successful architect, Martin, who admits to his best friend, wife and son that he is having an affair with a goat. Once the deed is confessed to, we see each person’s reactions to Martin’s disclosure, and Martin’s sincere belief that there is nothing “sick” about what he is feeling for Sylvia, the goat. Bestiality is one of the last great taboos, and Albee tries to get the audience to relate to Martin’s feelings. Martin’s son is gay — not too many years ago that fact might have been seen as just as unnatural as Martin’s relationship with an animal. However, bestiality is untried territory, and Martin’s unapologetic, self-involved, self-righteous character doesn’t invoke sympathy, let alone bridge the gap to empathy. His justifications for his actions in the face of the hurt he is creating makes for a character you want to smack, not pat on the head and say, it’s all right. Lawrence MacGowan as Martin is serviceable in his role. Until his confession, the play drags. We know what he’s going to say, so why didn’t Albee get to the point? Once we reach that moment, MacGowan’s best parts come when he is trying to explain the deep bond he feels with the goat. He manages to put forth emotions that, when linked to what he is describing, are shock-inducing, but credible in their presentation. The shock is generated because you believe this man is truly in love with a goat. However, Diane Kondrat as wife Stevie gets the chance to really blow off steam, and this is where some of the best lines and entertaining scenarios come in. The pace picks up when the furniture starts flying. Her anger is well-contained in her instantaneous switching from hysterical anger to calm, biting, sarcastic remarks. Given the subject matter, the show has some great one-liners. Kondrat appearing front and center, with pools of mascara under her eyes, is especially effective. LeBron Benton as best friend Ross gets his share of great scenes as well; his reaction to finding out who Sylvia is is priceless. The final character, Jason Ober as Billy, however, seems superfluous. His presentation is flat, and his monologues repetitious at best, since they basically rehash the fight scenes between Martin and Stevie. Set designer James Gross crafted a beautiful, swanky room for the action. Very elaborate, reminiscent of something you would see on the Indiana Repertory Theatre stage. • Challenging, but worth the work. The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia, directed by Bryan Fonseca, continues through Oct. 19. For tickets, call the Phoenix, 749 N. Park Ave., at 635-PLAY.