Los Angeles Theater Review: THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? (California Repertory Company in Long Beach)

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by Mia Bonadonna on March 5, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Edward Albee’s diligently disturbing tragicomedy, The Goat or Who is Sylvia?, is running at California Repertory Company in the belly of the Queen Mary’s Royal Theatre. One of Albee’s most well-known works, Goat follows the dissolution of a perfect family after central character, Martin, reveals that he is having a zoophilic affair with a goat. Cal Rep’s production of this modern classic is not perfect, but through sharp banter, adversity, and norm-skirting plot twists, they dispatch a raw emotive energy that is both heart-wrenching and gratifying to see.

Brian Mulligan and Roma Maffia in Cal Rep's production of Edawrd Albee's THE GOAT.

The cast of Goat—Brain Mulligan, Roma Maffia, Tyler Bremer, and Christopher Shaw—passionately pour themselves into Albee’s characters, each becoming progressively more affecting as the production progresses through its tragic (yet ultimately satisfying) end. As central character Martin, Mulligan’s Woody Allen-esque demeanor lends itself well to Martin’s struggle with moral ambiguity. Through subtle capitulation, Mulligan forces the audience to constantly evaluate their own social norm subjectivity. Complimenting Mulligan, Maffia’s lioness-like portrayal of Stevie, Martin’s betrayed wife, dominates the stage with a profoundly heartrending, penetrating performance that rejects stereotypical notions of delicacy. Playing Billy, Martin and Stevie’s sensitive teenage son, Bremer channels a receptive and empowered expression of Albee’s own difficult childhood.

Brian Mulligan and Craig Anton in Cal Rep's production of Edawrd Albee's THE GOAT.

James Martin’s direction of Goat packs an apt emotive punch built on tension, performer intimacy, and sweeping use of the stage, but he clearly forgot to block his actors so that the audience isn’t frequently looking at the back of their heads—a move that is distracting and unfortunately makes the audience miss out on much of the fantastic emotive work of the cast.

Roma Maffia, Tyler Bremer, Brian Mulligan in Cal Rep's production of Edawrd Albee's THE GOAT.

Albee spattered Goat’s hyper-realistic dialog with obviously out-of-place, over-wrought lines that sound like Neil Simon dribble filtered through a pseudo Shakespeare. This reviewer assumes that this aspect of the script was intentionally left intact to emphasize Albee’s penchant for New American absurdism. This Goat cast and director really struggle to handle the absurdly-toned lines, but it is forgivable in light of the fact that these injected bits of dialog truly do diminish an otherwise perfectly-crafted script. Lighting and set design for Cal Rep’s Goat is adequate, but nothing remarkable; but in truth, the script is so rich that it doesn’t really need much theatrical bolstering.

Roma Maffia, Tyler Bremer and Brian Mulligan in Cal Rep's production of Edawrd Albee's THE GOAT.

Goat is perhaps best appreciated while taking Albee’s childhood into context. It is well known that as a child, Albee struggled tremendously to have a fulfilling relationship with his own parents while simultaneously dealing with his own gay sexuality at an early age in an era intolerant of diversity. This reviewer cannot help but wonder if the troubled, but outspoken Billy is Albee’s retrospective self-wish, a longing to have been born 60 years later at a time when being a gay teen in suburban New York would have been socially acceptable.

Brian Mulligan, Roma Maffia in Cal Rep's production of Edawrd Albee's THE GOAT.

Albee builds up an ideal family in Goat, and then brutally destroys it, using Billy as a vehicle to explicate the heart-wrenching dissolution, as though he were violently, jealously attacking parental relationship he was never fortunate enough to have. Goat is not a play about being a gay teenager, but the fact that the Billy character exists, is so very telling. If Goat is indeed Albee’s wishes manifest on the page, one cannot help but feel inextricable sadness for such deeply ingrained pain. On the surface, The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? is a fast-paced disturbing play about taboo, but more importantly, it is a work about a never-ending cycle of victimization born out of ambiguous social context.

Brian Mulligan and Tyler Bremer in Cal Rep's production of Edawrd Albee's THE GOAT.photos by Keith Ian Polakoff

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?
California Repertory Company
Royal Theater
The Queen Mary in Long Beach
scheduled to end on March 8, 2014
for tickets, call (562) 985-5526
or visit www.calrep.org

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