How magnificent is Bruce R. Nelson’s performance as Martin in Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? at Rep Stage? He makes you believe in the transcendental power of falling in love with a goat.
His bewilderment at finding himself at the age of 50, at the pinnacle of his career as an architect and happily ensconced in a functional and sexually fulfilling marriage, helplessly in love with a farm animal named Sylvia is almost celestial.
While you hardly condone his bestiality, Mr. Nelson’s Martin evokes tenderness as a man undone by unreasonable passion and there is a hushed beauty and purity in his recounting of first meeting Sylvia and how she roused an epiphany in him that no human being ever could. He is mystified on a profound level, completely out of his element, which is an artful life constructed of elegance, sophistication, and precision.
To wit, both he and his wife Stevie (Emily Townley, equally stunning) cannot help correcting people’s English and mixed metaphors, even in the heat of battle. A battle royale is the crux of Albee’s lacerating comedy, receiving a rapturous production at Rep Stage under the masterful direction of Kasi Campbell.
After finding out from their mutual friend Ross (a deeply sympathetic Steven Carpenter) about Martin’s four-legged infidelity, Stevie rails against a love that has no logic or boundaries. Martin pleads for understanding, but Stevie sees it as an incomprehensible betrayal. “How can you love me when you love so much less?” she thunders, each lava-flow of rage punctuated by the smashing of an art object—a further desecration of the chic sanctity of Daniel Ettinger’s set.
To her, some terrible line has been crossed, and like in a Greek tragedy, nature is out of balance. And, like modern-day Antigone or Iphegenia, Stevie must commit a bold, shocking act to put things right again. Miss Townley portrays the outsized dimensions of a classic tragedian with guts and glory, at one point letting out a howl that would rattle Medea.
The Goat may sound like a barnyard version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but it is actually absurdly, mercilessly funny. Both Mr. Nelson and Miss Townley understand that Mr. Albee’s wordplay, in the right hands, can be like Noel Coward with fangs and they hurl themselves into the banter with exactness and fury.
It is hard to fathom how so many indelible moments can get packed into 90 minutes, but one corker has Stevie shoving her manicured finger into Martin’s face and vowing “You brought me down and I am going to take you down with me!” before storming out the door. Martin’s face crumples with horror and sadness at the weight of her anger, but then you see vestiges of the former controlled, exacting Martin when he coldly parses her parting sentences in a later conversation with his son, Billy (Travis Hudson, deftly playing the confused and hurt gay son). The scene with Billy is another stunner, as Martin veers between being cruelly conflicted and warmly loving toward his homosexual son.
Some may contend that everything can be justified, even the most atrocious acts, especially in the name of love. Yet Mr. Albee is not content with glib cynicism in The Goat, instead asking us to consider whether love is, indeed, boundless, and whether society is capable of tolerating those who love in the shadows.
The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
by Edward Albee
directed by Kasi Campbell
produced by Rep Stage
reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? runs through June 27, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.
THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA?