The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? ****

There is no polite way to put this.  The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, is about a happily married man who has entered into an adulterous affair with a farm goat.  Written by the great Edward Albee, it is an interesting mixture of naturalistic and absurdist drama that relishes in making its audience squirm with laughter and shock.

Finding ways of making a drama teeter between revulsion and hilarity, director Dominic Hill’s production is consistently sharp.  There are many styles of theatrics on the Traverse 1 stage, and part of the joy is seeing what is going to get thrown at the audience next.  Jonathan Fensom’s set is more complicated and functional than it first appears, and Katharine Williams’ lighting is subtle but nice.  Together, a realistic portrait of a nuclear family’s home is painted, making the run of events all the more fantastic yet disturbing.

As for the acting, it is consistently top-notch.  Kyle McPhail has some nice moments as teenager Billy and Paul Birchard is fun as Ross, the voice of reason.  However, it is Sian Thomas as wife Stevie and John Ramm as husband Martin who drive the play.  Ramm’s character is actually much more sympathetic than one would assume, a towering success in life who does the best he can to intellectualise his dilemma, and Thomas literally takes control of the stage whenever a new piece of her husband’s affair is revealed.  Together, the two create a stunning portrait of a once-happy marriage spiralling into oblivion.  It is a portrait that is both hilarious and disturbing.

Yet the real star is Albee.  Famous for making plays that combine reality, symbolism and the unconventional, Albee has written a script that works on many levels, questioning fidelity, acceptance and happiness.  No matter how absurd the situation becomes, the dialogue is always believable, and though the characters might make some questionable choices, it is easy to believe that they would do as such.

The Goat is an odd play, much funnier than one would assume and yet more poignant than it should be.  It does make for occasionally uncomfortable theatre, but isn’t that a good thing?

At the Traverse until May 8, 2010.

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