Friday, October 15, 2010

‘Goat’: Disquieting sum of the parts

Christopher Cantrell and Pug Bujeaud, photo courtesy Theater Artists Olympia
Published in The News Tribune / The Olympian, Oct. 15, 2010

Theater Artists Olympia is doing Edward Albee’s “The Goat or Who is Sylvia” at The Midnight Sun Performance Space in downtown Olympia.

“Entertaining” is not the right word for this play. “For adults only” hardly conveys how shocking or offensive it might be to large segments of the theater-going public. I don’t want to say I liked it, but I did like each separate aspect of it, from the writing to the acting to production values that were outstanding considering the limitations of space and budget.

Albee is known for provocative and nonconventional plays. From his first play in 1958, “The Zoo Story,” to the film that made him famous with a wider audience, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Albee has been known for ironic humor, biting dialogue and unrelenting dramatic tension. “The Goat” has all of this in spades.

Martin (Christopher Cantrell) is a successful architect who has been faithful to his wife, Stevie (Pug Bujeaud) for decades. Their settled life is shattered when he confesses to an affair with Sylvia, a goat.

Bestiality is not unheard of, but it is rare, and what makes it even stranger in Martin’s case is that he says he is in love with Sylvia.

The play begins as a conventional domestic comedy, but Stevie gives an early hint that it is going to veer into the absurd when she says, “The sense that everything’s going right is a sure sense that everything’s going wrong.” Even before Martin confesses his affair – first to his best friend, Ross (Christian Carvajal) and then to Stevie and their son, Billy (Samuel Johnston) – it becomes a laugh-fest of absurd humor. But soon the laughter becomes uncomfortable, and the intensity of the clashes between the four characters becomes almost unbearable as the reality of what has been confessed sinks in. There is an absurd amount of screaming and cursing and smashing of glass and ceramics as Stevie throws almost every artifact in their home to the floor. (Warning: Sitting in the front row might be dangerous.)

Albee’s wordplay is in a league with Shakespeare and Tom Stoppard. The direction by Eric Mark is outstanding, and I can’t praise the acting by Cantrell, Bujeaud, Carvajal and Johnston enough.

If it is possible to envision how normal people might react to the announcement that their husband-dad-best friend is in love with a goat, the reactions of these three are absolutely believable and realistic.

Carvajal makes you dislike but empathize with Ross. Bujeaud and Johnston both express extreme emotions tempered with nuanced expressions. To sustain such intensity of emotion throughout a play without striking a false note or dropping a line or slipping out of character is amazing. Cantrell, who is known for broad and highly emotional acting, actually reins it in a bit in a display of tightly controlled despair and confusion. This is acting at its best.

If you think you can take it, I do recommend that you see “The Goat or Who is Sylvia.”

Seating is limited. The audience was small the night I saw it. The next night, they had a full house, so I recommend purchasing tickets online as soon as possible.

What: Theater Artists Olympia presents this story of one man’s unusual love.
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Midnight Sun Performance Space, 113 Columbia St. N.W., Olympia
Tickets: $12 available at www.brownpapertickets. com and at the door
Information: www.

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