Los Angeles Theater Review: THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? (L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Renberg Theatre)

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by Jason Rohrer on September 20, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles


Martin is an architect at the top of his profession; he and his wife Stevie and their son Billy live at, or on, the crest of civilization: rich, successful, smart, loving, happy. Their journalist friend Ross is, if not an Olympian, a dweller on the slopes; they are all cultivated, delightful, the beautiful people. And then Martin screws up by taking a perfectly inappropriate lover named Sylvia, and his fall from grace is all the more horrifying for the grace with which he falls.

Paul Witten, Ann Noble

Edward Albee should write every play, is how I feel when I watch an Edward Albee play. I often feel this when watching plays by other authors. He awakens a part of me at once aspirational and satisfied. I am elevated by him. He is not the most prolific serious writer of the last fifty years, and has no lock on devastating investigations of the dark soul. But where I can find Beckett and Mamet precious, Shepard and Miller labored, Albee always strikes me as tasteful and efficient, even when he is not, particularly. Even a middling effort for him, such as his 1967 adaptation of Giles Cooper’s suburban prostitution comedy Everything in the Garden, makes one wonder why every play can’t have this soundness of construction, this level of literacy. 2002’s The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? is much stronger stuff, a play any writer would be happy to claim one of; Albee has at least five or six this good.

Paul Witten & Matt Kirkwood

Producer Jon Imparato’s production, now playing just a block off Theater Row, begs a similar question: While excluding the obvious question of quality text (Albee jealously protects his shows from half-assed productions), what makes one 99-seat show so vastly superior to another? It’s not budget, though Imparato certainly hired Robert Selander, Matt Richter, and Paula Higgins to design set, lighting, and costumes a director usually whistles for. It’s an eye for talent, which takes dedication to develop. It’s mastery. This attractive producer, these motivated designers aren’t dilettantes. If they had half this budget, they’d still knock you out.

Ann Noble & Paul Witten

Director Ken Sawyer is so intelligent in his choices that I wish everybody thinking about directing at the Complex, or the Hudson, or the Celebration, would come see his work, and ask themselves whether they can contribute at this level. If not, they can certainly study here, and learn. Yes, it helps to have a sophisticated script. But to understand the potential dynamics in a plot and to exploit them so adroitly through motion and stillness, to use music this judiciously, to cast this well, to wring fine actors so thoroughly not merely of technique but of spiritual potential, is not something any given citizen can do. You have to be very very good at the whole art thing.

Spencer Morrissey, Paul Witten

The actors on this show aren’t getting star salaries under the Equity Waiver plan, but Paul Witten’s Martin is a creature so well balanced and modulated that he can be trusted to carry the weight of tragedy without ever asking for pity. Rather, pathos resonates from within him. As Stevie, Ann Noble oversteps the bounds of reasonable expectation; her sustained power, timing, and accuracy make me think of a balletic sniper. But atop their highly invested characters, these actors can layer the grace notes demanded in a superlative production. They deliver more than authenticity; within a realistic frame, they heighten reality until it towers above common tragedy. Matt Kirkwood, as Ross, is better than I’ve ever seen him – sharp, intuitive, immediate. As Billy, Spencer Morrissey proves a very promising talent; every young actor should be so lucky as to mix in this company.

Ann Noble & Paul Witten.

Every Los Angeles theatergoer should be so lucky as to see a show this ecstatic. Because all this work is in service of literature that evaluates the sexual morality, the emotional fidelity, the personal integrity we all would like to claim; and it asks of these things what they say about our natures. You may guess much from the play’s title, but there is no way to be prepared for what will happen to you in this theater, because it will happen to you alone. A really well-written tragedy always seems tailored to the individual. Our shock and purgation is after all a personal matter, nobody else’s business. Just like our taste in intimate companions.

Spencer Morrissey, Paul Witten, Ann Noblephotos by Michael Lamont

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center
L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s Renberg Theatre
The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden
Fri and Sat at 8; Sun at 7
scheduled to end on November 23, 2014
for tickets, call (323) 860-7300
or visit www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatre

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