Play examines the abnormal

Theater Review

May 28, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to the sun

Bay Theatre ends its sixth season with a new level of dramatic excellence in Edward Albee's 1992 play, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, a challenging work by an author often described as America's greatest living playwright.

While Bay Theatre's 2007-2008 season began with the nostalgic I Do! I Do!, where an old-fashioned couple dealt with quaint early 20th-century family problems, it now leaps to the present, where a contemporary couple confronts the unimaginable.

In this 90-minute, one-act drama, we meet a happily married 50-year-old renowned architect who has found sexual fulfillment with a goat and seems to find his situation normal.

His wife, Stevie, decidedly does not. (Bay Theatre cautions that this play contains strong language.)

Before labeling this as shocking, recall 1972 Woody Allen's movie Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask, which depicted a psychiatrist played by Gene Wilder having an affair with a sheep.

Albee has said that this play is not about bestiality but about confronting the incomprehensible. He exposes society's artificial values and invites us to define the meaning of love in this story of affluent Martin and Stevie Gray, happily married for 22 years, the caring parents of teenage son Billy.

The play opens as Martin has won a prestigious architectural award and is to be interviewed by his lifelong friend, television reporter Ross. During the interview, Martin confesses to having an affair with a goat, and Ross then shares that news with Stevie.

As director and producer, Bay Theatre co-founder Lucinda Merry-Browne draws layered performances from her excellent cast. She paces the action smartly so that it never becomes bogged down in wordiness, nor does the furious destruction of artworks and furnishings ever dissolve into chaos.

Tom Gregory gives a multidimensional portrayal of Martin that conveys his professional assurance along with his naivete and innocence. He's committed to his marriage while acknowledging his schoolboy infatuation for his goat, Sylvia. Martin is convinced that his attraction to Sylvia is natural and no threat to Stevie.

As the TV interview progresses, Martin becomes increasingly annoyed with Ross. The scene is filled with biting wit, although the pace last weekend was sometimes slow.

Fellow Actors' Equity Association member Lee Ordeman is also excellent in portraying complex multifaceted characters. He shows opposite sides of his character, Ross, in his moralistic concern and an annoying superficiality that suggests an egocentric media personality.

Bret Jaspers is outstanding in his debut role as the Grays' conflicted son, Billy, who has a few contradictions of his own. Jaspers' Billy is a high-school boy of intense sexuality - eager to experience life but now facing an impossible situation where he conveys his love for his mother and his distress at the pain his father is causing her. He is horrified at the erupting violence in his home but shows disgust and an affection for his father that briefly borders on incestuous - to insert yet another taboo.

Bay Theatre co-founder and artistic director Janet Luby creates a Stevie who is a bright, loving wife and mother and a contemporary everywoman fencing wittily with Martin before fully confronting the degradation brought to her by his infidelity. It releases an explosion of painful, primal anger that is soul-wrenching. She becomes a modern-day Medea, achieving the savage power of epic Greek drama to confront ancient human truths that move us onto an artful pinnacle of contemporary and ancient theater.

The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? defines great theater. Even the set designed by Troy-Jon Sets is a masterful work that is partially destroyed by flying shattering pottery at each performance, only to be reassembled for the next.

Albee's drama continues at Bay Theatre at 275 West St. in Annapolis at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through June 14. For tickets, call 410-268-1333 or visit www.baytheatre.org.

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