THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA?
By Edward Albee
Directed by Shawn Gann
Stage Manager: Araceli Radillo Bowling
Set Designer: Jamie Kinser-Knight
Lighting Designer: Branson White
Sound Designer: Danica Bergeron
Costumes Designer: JL Sunshine
Props Designer: George Meek
Makeup & Hair Design: Stephanie Campbell
Van Quattro – Martin Gray
Morgana Shaw – Stevie Gray
Garrett Reeves – Billy Gray
Jason Leyva – Ross Tuttle
Reviewed Performance: 5/26/2016
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
America is in a tizzy this year and it seems like it’s all about class and culture. Everyone’s taking sides against various taboos and, while homosexuality and gay marriage seem more acceptable in the face of overwhelming public support, others like gender, racial and religious identity are raging hotter than ever. Politicians are fanning the flames while social media has become a war zone. Extremists on the left are barely counter-balancing extremists on the right; so the political and social middle is where any chance for civil discourse occurs. That includes theater, which has the power to explore these issues in a civil way.
The Goat Or, Who Is Sylvia? By Edward Albee plays into this war zone mentality by presenting a family in crisis where discussion reaches extremes and the subject is taboos. Martin and Stevie tolerate their gay son, Billy, while trying to understand his choices, and then their war turns nuclear when Martin falls in love with Sylvia.
Albee is no stranger to this kind of discussion as he often places over-heated topics into a Greek tragedy to see how the characters deal with it. Though the play is almost fifteen years old, the topic and the histrionics seem more relevant today than ever.
Rudy Seppy Studio in Irving provides a no-frills space with particular structural challenges for a director. Shawn Gann put together a strong design team who turned the very small Studio into a functional living room and still allowed for a nice audience seating area.
Jamie Kinser-Knight created a stage set that was not only attractive for the family’s upscale lifestyle, but also durable in the face of regular destruction. Part of the Seppy is a brick wall behind the set, so they built another brick façade behind the audience which created a design unity and overcame the raw nature of this old store that’s now used as storage and rehearsal space. The living room of Martin and Stevie Gray and consisted of a couch, chairs and several small tables around the room. Props Designer George Meek added wall accents, like photos and display items, and lots of room design elements, fruit, books, flower vases, and other things that could become projectiles. Close proximity makes the audience feel like they’re in the family living room and it was comfortable, for a while.
Lighting Designer Branson White had to light this set with minimal instruments and some on-set lamps. The colors in the set pieces and the red brick walls enhanced the space’s warm, inviting feel. Sound Designer Danica Bergeron created a sound track that included tracks by The Smiths, Pink, Joy Division and Melanie Martinez. While these set the modern-ness of the period, the songs also had subtle messages that fed into the coming chaos, suggesting themes of different-ness and outsider-ness.
JL Sunshine designed a costume plot that looked for all the world like modern, upscale casual clothing. More subtly, whether intentional or not, Martin’s tans and plaids denoted a late-middle age guy in the prime of normalcy and Stevie’s multi-color, layered pants and summer tops implied a comfortable lifestyle filled with happiness. Ross Tuttle’s black jeans and gray sweater vest cast him in the role of a yuppie(?), if we’re allowed to call people that now, and the TV show host he is. And young Billy wore blue jeans with an over-sized blue print pullover that screamed teenage apathy and quiet rebellion. Makeup & Hair Design by Stephanie Campbell created several styles of long, wavy reddish brown hair for Stevie that played into the normalcy of her class in a suburban family. Neither her clothing nor her hair and makeup would stay normal.
Martin is having a hell of a mid-life crisis, forgetting things, losing focus, worrying about Alzheimer’s, trying to understand his aging. Van Quattro has this lanky middle-aged look that fits the role and he created a strong subtext that showed Martin’s internal confusion, staring off into space, forgetting questions and answers, questioning his sanity. This went downhill until Martin revealed finally his secret to his best friend, Ross, when it fell off the mountain. Quattro showed Martin struggling with the realities of this secret as he argues with Ross and then with his wife. Martin’s tragedy unfolded like a train wreck and the audience couldn’t look away as Quattro kept taking Martin lower and lower into his story, trying to get it out, trying to get someone to understand. It wasn’t that Quattro was acting crazy, as is often the case when actors try to play mid-life crisis. He really struggled, as if he was trying to internally find a way to express that craziness , and that internal turmoil translated perfectly into Martin’s craziness. It was a difficult acting challenge and a fine performance.
Morgana Shaw played Martin’s wife, Stevie. The wife is often the last to know and then has to pick up the pieces of her shattered marriage. Shaw created Stevie as a character who proudly carried the normalcy banner in the beginning, a loving wife strong enough to toy with her husband about a possible affair with someone named Sylvia, strong enough to joke about it. She suspected nothing, but when a letter came, Shaw took that level-headed woman, ready to confront the absurdity of accusations leveled at Martin, hoping it was a sick joke, and allowed Stevie to devolve as she comes to grips with her truth. Her life is devastated as she tries to understand it, and Shaw shows us an extraordinary dive into deep despair in a state of raw, animalistic violence. As this unfolds to its shocking conclusion, Shaw reminds us what happens when there is nothing lower to reach and shows us the effects of extreme tragedy on normal people.
Garrett Reeves played Billy, the teenage son. It’s clear Billy struggles with identity and his painful exploration of homosexuality, yet the discovery of his father’s secret is stifling and he slowly sinks into his own abyss. Reeves begins with a lot of pent-up anger from the beginning, so it seems hard to see how he could go deeper; however, he steadily finds more intense levels of hurt and loathing as Billy tries to protect his mom, while reconciling his devotion to his father with his new-found shame about his father’s secret. This young actor gives this young character extreme anguished moments with his father in ways that will either turn your head or make you cry. It’s shocking and touching.
Ross Tuttle is Martin’s best friend. He exposes the secret and takes on the view of normal society, although he’s liberal in most ways. Jason Leyva played Ross as a true childhood best friend to Martin, until the secret scarred him so deeply he recoiled in his own violent way. Normal society often believes in looking the other way when a mate cheats on a spouse, and even allows for a certain amount of once-taboo practice that falls into the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell response. Ross shows the liberal side of society about Billy being gay, though he tries to help Martin believe it’s a passing phase. But Martin’s sin is another story, a line you cannot cross. Leyva makes this obvious as he quickly transitions Ross from a guy curious about a friend’s affair to a violent reaction when he hears the truth. Leyva is incredibly adept at exploring the extreme levels of a character’s personality. He has an uncanny ability to make his character grin slyly at the friend he’s stabbing in the back. So he was terrific at making Ross a best friend at the same time he tossed a grenade into his family. It’s clear Ross must be questioning his own belief systems at the same time he castigates his friend. The Goat Or, Who Is Sylvia? explores social taboos. The debate represents conflicts across social groups . One man’s taboo is another man’s preference. The outcome in this play is tragic, but the journey is filled with dark humor. As in Aristotle’s treatise on tragedy, the play is cathartic. In this case it compares homosexuality and bestiality. Albee questions social morality in Western societies and explores how absurd social conventions become part of the fabric of that society. In the current climate of violent discourse about transgender people and political racism against large minority groups, this play simplifies these debates and shows the tragic effects of absurd prejudice and taboo. Tolerance is a tool societies have to learn over time and, even with progress, the tables can quickly be turned back to a violent past.
It’s a very disturbing show that needs to be seen. The themes are relevant. The production is tightly paced and well directed, and the acting is excellent. There are probably only a few production companies brave enough to take on this type of subject. L.I.P. Service has done it and I recommend it for adults of all ages.
THE GOAT OR, WHO IS SYLVIA?
L.I.P Service Productions
The Rudy Seppy Studio, 2333 W. Rochelle Road, Irving, TX 75062
Plays through June 11
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00pm. Tickets are $15.00. For info and to purchase tickets, visit www.lipserviceproductions.info or call the box office at 972-221-7469.