Wednesday, January 23, 2013

THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? • St. Louis Actors' Studio

Edward Albee is considered one of this country's most influential playwrights, winning three Pulitzer Prizes for Drama.  Who doesn't love Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, right?  He's also the author of A Delicate Balance, Three Tall Women, and over roughly 25 other plays.  The Goat, debuting in 2002, is the story of a middle-aged married man who falls in love with another woman, but in this case, the other woman is a goat.  Sylvia the goat.  So, there's that.  Now, many plays about infidelity involve couples who aren't happy to begin with, but Martin (John Pierson), an accomplished architect, and his wife Stevie (Nancy Bell) truly love each other, have both been faithful (until recently) and are completely happy, physically and emotionally, in their relationship.  That is until Martin's carryings-on with Sylvia come to light, shattering his wife and their teenage son, Billy (Scott Anthony Joy).  Buckle up, right?

With a seemingly absurd premise, the play is about more than what initially meets the eye.  Although it's spiked with humor and Albee's razor-sharp wit and dialogue, this play, in the end, shows itself to be about tolerance, trying to examine exactly what the nature of love is, and who gets to decide that, and how it is decided.  The play's sub-title happens to be "(Notes toward a definition of tragedy)".  

John Pierson (Martin) and William Roth (Ross)
Photo credit: John Lamb
So, Martin has just received the Pritzker Prize for architecture and while his longtime friend, a television producer named Ross (William Roth), is taping an interview with him, he cuts it short.  Martin's distracted.  After a bit of hemming and hawing, Martin tells Ross about his infidelity.  Ross is understandably dumbstruck.  He's so alarmed, he feels that Martin's wife Stevie must be told about the affair.  Once Stevie finds out about Martin's unsettling love affair via a letter from Ross, she reacts the way you'd think anyone would -- with complete horror.  It's like she's woken up in a Greek tragedy.  (Oh, and the word tragedy comes from the Greek "goat song".  Along with the play's sub-title, I find that really interesting…)  Anyway, at one point, struggling through the details of the first time her husband and Sylvia go "to bed together", she loudly corrects him with, "you mean to stall together".  During the explanation she lets loose a primal howl that viscerally conveys her disgust and deep sense of betrayal.  Talk about feeling something in your gut...

Nancy Bell (Stevie), Scott Anthony Joy (Billy)
and John Pierson (Martin). 
Photo credit: John Lamb
The reaction of their son Billy, who happens to be gay, is explored further where more light is shed on the nature of relationships, and the arbitrary decisions about where lines get crossed, and if people really mean it when they say, "love is love".  These questions, in the second act, are more deeply plumbed.

Wayne Salomon directs with a real understanding of what this play is trying to get at, while making sure all of the moments of levity land squarely.  The success of this play is also reliant on the actors, and the performances of Pierson and Bell work brilliantly.  They don't camp it up, but play their characters of husband and wife with complete sincerity and skill.  When Martin describes how he met Sylvia and the epiphany that he discovered when he realized that there was a profound and confounding connection made, you believe him.  As Stevie eventually calmly listens to all of the sordid details, spilling out into their nice living room, the tension erupts periodically as she smashes various bowls and vases against the wall.  Laughs and chills.  William Roth's Ross, a somewhat sympathetic friend of the couple, and Scott Anthony Joy as their son Billy, handle their confrontations with Martin well, but the added dimension of the son's sexuality adds an unexpected dynamic.

Nancy Bell (Stevie) and John Pierson (Martin).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Patrick Huber's lights and contemporary set smartly represent the comfortable home of the family.  Teresa Doggett's costume design handsomely informs the characters.

This play is some good stuff.  It'll give you laughter in places where you don't expect them, and plenty to chew on on your way home.  Check it out!


THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA?

Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Wayne Salomon
The Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave.
through February 3 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Cast:
John Pierson* (Martin), Nancy Bell* (Stevie), William Roth (Ross) and Scott Anthony Joy (Billy).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic and lighting design by Patrick Huber; sound design by Robin Weatherall; costume design by Teresa Doggett; stage manager, Amy J. Paige.

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