Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Shock and Baa

I've been away from the blog for several days, concentrating like a laser beam on my graduate school term paper. I think I'm going overboard, my professor even hinting that I was approaching this like a thesis and it's only a 25 page paper. So I canceled my flight over to London to review original first editions of Lord Byron's poems.

Last Thursday, went to see a great but problematic show called "The Goat." It's Edward Albee's latest and, as per usual for him, it's chock full of amazing dialogue and interesting ideas. Sometime when I really have time, I'd like to spend more time explicating the problems with the play since I think they point to bigger issues involving the problems with theater in general. But for now, my review is below. It'll be in Style next week; I was thinking it'd be in there this week but it seems I never know for sure anymore.

I've got new weight stats too (snuck into WW on Saturday). Will post soon.
Shock and Baa
“The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?” investigates the limits of love in a hilarious production at the Firehouse
by David Timberline (512 words)

At some point during “The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?” you are likely to think, ‘this play isn’t really about that, is it?’ Well, one thing you should know upfront about Edward Albee’s Tony-award winning play, currently showing in a rousing production by the Firehouse Theatre Project: It is indeed about that.

But once you get past the initial shock, you’ll realize that there is a brilliant method to Albee’s madness. The celebrated playwright is purposely going where no author is his right mind has gone before in order to explore themes about love in surprising and often hilarious ways. There is clearly genius at work here, the only frustration being that, once Albee ventures into this uncharted territory, he doesn’t quite know what to do. If the play’s finale seems abrupt, it’s because the roller coaster just seems to be picking up speed when the fun comes to end.

Oh, but what a ride it is before we get there, particularly as performed by director Morrie Piersol’s able cast. Local theater vet Daniel Moore plays Martin, an architect at the apex of his career, having just won a prestigious prize and a lucrative contract. But the arrival of his 50th birthday seems to have scrambled his brain and when he almost inadvertently mentions his affair with ‘Sylvia’ to his devoted wife, Stevie (Melissa Johnston Price), she assumes it’s a joke. But in scenes loopy, fierce, and ultimately tragic, we find out the explosive truth, with the shock waves disturbing everyone close to Martin, including his best friend, Ross (Mark Brandon) and his teenage son, Billy (Jeremy Wade).

The play is packed with special delights for the true theater geek, starting with the play’s title (a reference to the ancient Greek tragedies, known as “goat songs”) and running to toss-off references to Noel Coward and Arthur Kopit. But there’s plenty for even the most casual fan here, particularly in Price’s stirring performance. Her intense confusion, anger and even disgust never blunts her intelligence so that a great line like “a woman in woe often mixes her metaphors” doesn’t seem self-conscious. Moore also does excellent work in a role that is like a tightrope: so much depends on Martin being honest – not simply ridiculous – that one wrong step could send the play whirling into utter absurdity. Moore never falters.

Less successful are Brandon and Wade as the subsidiary characters, but the fault for that is mostly Albee’s. Ross, the best friend, is less a character than a catalyst. Wade nails the adolescent angst, delivering a steady performance until Albee uses his character to introduce yet another shocking taboo into the mix (as if livestock wasn’t enough).

Kudos must be paid to scenic designer Barbara Russell who successfully evokes a stylish New York apartment setting in a production that is otherwise appropriately spare. It’s Albee’s language that’s the centerpiece here, and if in the end, we never really come to understand what motivates Martin to embrace the unimaginable, the sum of it all is a dizzying exploration of love and the limits of propriety.

“The Goat or, Who is Sylvia”
Firehouse Theatre Project, 1609 W. Broad Street
Thursday – Saturday, 8pm, Sundays, 4pm, through November 19th


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