GET HIS 'GOAT'?
Edward Albee on the Controversial Play that has LA Theater
By Evan Henerson
- Los Angeles
February 6, 2005
about the latest production at the Mark Taper Forum, we'll have
to grind to powder customary squeamishness over revealing important
plot data. We do this with playwright Edward Albee's understanding
And why not?
Three years ago, Albee's ``The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?'' was the
talk of the theater world as, indeed, any new play by the author
of ``Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'' figures to be. By now,
the mystery of ``The Goat'' isn't exactly a mystery.
So if you
plan to attend ``The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?'' blissfully ignorant
of the kind of play you're going to see, now would be a good time
to switch to the sports page.
still with us, it's my journalistic duty to inform you that the
Tony award-winning play, starring Brian Kerwin and Cynthia Mace
and directed at the Taper by Warner Shook, is about a successful
architect named Martin with a devoted wife, Stevie, and a gay
teenage son. Upon turning 50, and just after he has landed a prestigious
assignment, Martin begins an affair with a goat who he names Sylvia.
Stevie finds out. She is not at all pleased.
You read that
right. A goat.
The play opened
on Broadway in March 2002 with Bill Pullman and Mercedes Ruehl
in the lead roles. By the time it closed in December, Bill Irwin
and Sally Field had taken over as Martin and Stevie. ``The Goat''
took the 2002 Tony Award for best play and secured Albee a Pulitzer
Prize nomination in the wake of mostly admiring critical notices,
which didn't always know whether to treat the work as a perverse
comedy or a modern-day Greek tragedy.
`` 'The Goat'
dares to suggest that even the most flawed and confused human
beings deserve compassionate understanding,'' wrote Variety's
Charles Isherwood, ``and the failure to proffer it is a species
of bestiality far more abhorrent than the sexual kind.''
tragedy? On this question, Albee says, ``I know when my stuff
is funny. The trick is to stop them from laughing, to cut off
the laughter at some point.''
``The Goat'' is, it's not meant to be symbolic, says the 76-year-old
author. There may be lines that tap into a post-9/11 waywardness
and haunting echoes in a Stevie monologue over something broken
that can't be fixed. But the situation is real.
``I have to
remind people that this is an absolutely naturalistic play,''
says Albee. ``It's not metaphorical. There's a real goat. A real
love affair with a real goat. There may be symbolism, but everything
should be done naturalistically.''
``Goat''-worthy pitfall offered by both the playwright and Shook
is for viewers to consider ``The Goat'' as a play about deviant
behavior or bestiality specifically.
a much bigger thing: the nature of love, and I think the power
of the play lies there,'' adds Shook. ``It's very funny, and then
it's not. And even at some of its most painful moments, there
are some of the most shocking laughs.''
people having sex with animals. There is a scene in which Martin
discusses a visit to a bestiality support group. Albee conducted
some Internet research and found that such organizations do exist,
although he never visited one.
concept of whether or not they would bring their pets (to the
meeting) amused me so much,'' says Albee. ``I almost wrote a scene
where people brought their dogs and cats and field mice. It would
have been a very funny scene ...''
During a telephone
interview, Albee brings an off-handed wryness to many of his observations.
Bemusement may be an occupational necessity when you've written
a darkly comic Broadway play dealing - directly or otherwise -
with a love that dare not bleat its name. ``I think I've been
called Satan more than once,'' says Albee. ``I got maybe 10 to
12 angry letters about 'The Goat' and no one signed their name.
Odd isn't it?''
who gave Shook his seal of approval to direct ``The Goat's'' West
Coast premiere in Seattle (also with Kerwin and Mace), hopes to
see the Taper production. A family illness and an upcoming Broadway
revival of ``Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'' with Bill Irwin
and Kathleen Turner as the boozing and battling George and Martha,
have somewhat anchored Albee on the East Coast.
I both invited him (to the Seattle production),'' says Kerwin,
``but he had some important family matters to deal with. We later
got a telegram and he said, 'My spies in Seattle inform me that
it's quite a wonderful production.' He often referred to his spies
in Seattle. I don't know who they were.''
Albee's may be an acquired taste, but Kerwin believes the modern
stage contains no better writer. Kerwin (``Murphy's Romance,''
``King Kong Lives'') worked with Albee when the playwright directed
a revival of ``Virginia Woolf'' at the Doolittle Theatre in the
late 1980s. When he read ``The Goat,'' Kerwin found himself desperate
to play the role that eventually went to Pullman.
it's one of his finest works,'' says Kerwin, ``and it's funny.
I guess there are actors that get it and actors who don't, but
I don't think that's the case with the audience. When it's presented
correctly, I think the audience is pretty affected.''
firsthand how affected audiences could become during nightly post-production
talk-back sessions. With Shook, the director, out of town on another
assignment after the production opened, it fell to Kerwin and
Mace to lead the talk-backs.
were lively, recalls Kerwin, who would have preferred to send
the audiences home uncomfortable and with a lump in their throat.
that this is really about people trying to get it out of their
system. They came wanting to shake it all out,'' says Kerwin.
``It was interesting and kind of neat that nobody misconstrued
the play as being anything about bestiality - whether it's good
or bad, or should or shouldn't be allowed. That just isn't what
the story is about.''
less interested in peeling away the play's layers. Past productions
of ``The Goat'' have spurred walkouts and occasional refund requests
from subscribers. Albee contends that when people walk out midperformance
- which isn't the easiest thing to do, since the 100-minute play
is performed without an intermission - it's often over objections
to the language and to a late scene involving Martin and his son,
surprised that people are surprised,'' says Albee. ``With 'Who's
Afraid of Virginia Woolf?' people would take sides and say, 'How
can you use such language?' I'd say, 'What are you complaining
about?' and they'd tell me stuff that wasn't in the play. Maybe
I get shocked too easily and by the wrong things.
``If I find
that (angry letters) have any intelligence at all, of course I'll
answer them. That's dialogue, and it's useful,'' he continues.
``But the ones that just say, 'How dare you. You're going straight
to hell.' What can you say to that, besides, 'Thank you'?''