Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

An Intense Production of Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Also see Richard's reviews of Art and the San Francisco Opera Festival

Don R. McManus and Pamela Reed
American Conservatory Theatre is presenting the Bay Area premiere of three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Edward Albee's witty, controversial drama The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? at the Geary Theatre through July 10th. I first saw this intriguing, strange drama at the Golden Theatre in May 2002 with Mercedes Ruehl, Bill Pullman, Stephen Rowe and Jeffrey Carlson. If anything, it did shock me somewhat, even though I had been raised in "farm country" in western Ohio. The play won the 2002 Tony Award for best new play.

The Goat is an incisive, deeply funny and ultimately tragic exploration of the confounding nature of love and relationships. Albee has presented a headstrong portrait of a standard mid-life drama with some very strange relationships. However, as Edward Albee said to Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle about the play, "it's about the limits of our tolerance. I wanted people to see the play and imagine themselves in it." Yes, I agree, I firmly believe some people in the audience will see themselves in one of the four characters on the stage.

This play does have overtones of Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (though not as well written) and he has taken it one step further. I really wonder if the step is worth taking just for a shock value to the audience. The playwright has written three scenes in this one hour 50 minute comedy drama with no intermission. The first scene has clever and witty dialogue between husband and wife, Martin and Stevie. It's easygoing and even the homosexuality of their single son is treated like some kind of stylish characterization. It's all very Noel Coward, even when the wife suspects the husband is having some sort of affair and the husband confesses he is in love with someone named Sylvia. The wife asks "Who is Sylvia?" and the husband majestically implies "She's a goat." Everyone laughs, including the wife.

The Goat turns ugly when the wife finally finds out the old boy is having an affair, both sexual and loving, with a real goat. Then, as they say, the dung hits the fan. The second scene becomes long and volatile with a confrontation between husband and wife. Martha, the lead character in Virginia Woolf, has nothing over the hot-blooded actions of this wife as she proceeds to physically destroy every piece of art work in the couple's upscale apartment. The husband seems very bewildered by the action which enrages the wife even more. (A word of caution to those sitting in the front row: watch out for flying pottery.)

The final scene has a moment of multifaceted intimacy between the father and his gay son as Albee tries to show the differences and yet confusing interactions of love and sexuality. The husband's best friend, who revealed Sylvia to the wife earlier, comes into this ludicrous scene sniping disgustingly, saying that his best friend is sick, sick, sick. The husband asks the question to the audience, "is there anything people don't get off on, whether we admit it or not - whether we know it or not?" The audience should then be prepared for the final scene which is a shocker.

Director Richard E.T.White has assembled a superb cast for this four character play. Confrontations between Don R. McManus (many film roles and numerous productions at The Old Globe Theatre) as Martin and Pamela Reed (Getting Out at the Lucille Lortel Theatre-Drama Desk Award for best actress) as Stevie are staged by the director with vicious efficiency. Pamela throws out one liners that neutralize the horror - zingers like "I suppose I should be grateful it wasn't a male goat." She gives an amazing performance that is almost terrifying to watch. She is not a one dimensional character but shows many emotional ranges, from sophisticated humor to confusion to rage. Don R. McManus is excellent as the husband who is confused about his "affair" with the animal and why people just don't understand him. He stays true to the role throughout the whole drama. He has a childlike quality about his acting that makes his portrayal outstanding.

Joseph Parks (Sweetest Swing in Baseball, A Perfect Ganesh, Mysterious Skin) gives an intense portrayal as the son Billy. He is the most palatable character; even when he calls Martin a "pervert" you can still see the love he has for his father. This young actor should have a brilliant future in the theatre. Charles Shaw Robinson (Homebody/Kabul, Betrayal, Eurydice) playing the best friend Ross is excellent as a judgmental person who believes in "normal" relationships.

Set designer Kent Dorsey has made an excellent apartment that would probably be located in the upper East 50s in Manhattan with a "a lot of objects d'art" since many are destroyed at each performance. Many of the objects on stage display the sexual connotations of the play. There is a very large and noticeable antique piece of art showing the Greek mythological Satyr fondling a young boy. Costumes by Beaver Bauer are excellent, showing the affluence of the family.

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? runs through July 10 at the Geary Theatre, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco. Tickets can be obtain by calling 415-749-2228 or going to

ACT's 2005-2006 season begins with The Overcoat created by Morris Panych and Wendy Gorling with music by Dmitri Shostakovich. It opens on August 25 and runs through September 25th.

Photo: Ken Friedman

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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