Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre (Sydney NSW), Mar 2 – Apr 1, 2023
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Mitchell Butel
Cast: Yazeed Daher, Claudia Karvan, Nathan Page, Mark Saturno
Images by Prudence Upton
Martin is obsessed with a goat; the attraction may very well be romantic, but when he tells his wife Stevie about the affair, Martin leaves no room for doubt about the sexual nature of his indiscretions. The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? is Edward Albee’s comedic masterpiece from 2000, notable for a conceit that most would choose to think of as absurd, for to take the play at face value, is unquestionably a real affront to our middle-class sensibilities.
Director Mitchell Butel toys with those precarious boundaries, by injecting a thorough realism into the staging, so that we laugh not only at the preposterous goings on, but also at the deeply uncomfortable disruptions to the bourgeoisie, that Albee so gleefully manufactures. Butel’s ability to make everything believable, gives the show a dangerous edge, so that for 100 minutes, the stakes feel incredibly high, even as the humour of the work makes its presence unmistakably known.
Actor Nathan Page is an astonishing Martin, bringing a hugely surprising measure of emotional truth, to this deliciously ridiculous tale. His expressions of devastation are not to earn our compassion, but to give depth of meaning to our experience of the show, as we laugh heartily at the catastrophe as it develops, with increasing peculiarity. Page’s unexpected fluctuations in tone and intensity, reflect a creative and courageous approach, that proves a perfect match for the play’s subversive humour.
Stevie is played by Claudia Karvan, who indulges in finding for her storytelling, all the authenticity that would make the audience perceive, the intricacies of a marriage in a state of shock. The ebullient Yazeed Daher charms as the couple’s son Billy (pun intended, one would suppose), and Mark Saturno calms our nerves as the normie of the piece, providing a more conventional response to the whole goat affair, although not without substantial hilarity through his excellent comic timing.
The production is a smart looking one, with Jeremy Allen’s set and Ailsa Paterson’s costumes delivering everything that is visually pleasant, of affluent, restrained whiteness. Lights by Nigel Levings, along with sound and music by Andrew Howard, are appropriately minimal in their enhancements of a play, that needs little aesthetic embellishment.
Things can always change in an unforeseen moment. We have learned from the moment of birth, that life has a way of dispensing upon us, one interruption after another, yet we keep on insisting on searching for stability, normalcy and calm. Martin and Stevie bolster their lives with all the comfort and certainty, that wealth seems to guarantee, but we are reminded that things will always descend, upon that which seems the most harmonious and indefectible, as though with the sole intention of wreaking havoc. To exist, is to be rendered defenceless, try as we may, to subsist in the delusion, that we can reach for something like nirvana, on this endlessly farcical plane.