Edgy playwright Edward Albee has pushed societal boundaries and shattered theatrical conventions since “Zoo Story,” his 1958 look at dehumanization in a commercial world. Somehow, for over forty years, he’s remained not only relevant, but prescient, the ultimate artist, capable of revealing the truth behind American social, political and sexual mores.
No exception, “The Goat or Who is Sylvia” is classic Albee, tightrope walking between comedy and tragedy. The show picks up with famed architect Martin (Nick Sandys) at the pinnacle of his career, happily married to Stevie (Annebel Armour) and grudgingly accepting of his gay son, Billy (Will Allan). Nonetheless, for the past six months, Martin has been living a double life of sorts. After he confides the details of his transgression to his slick friend Ross (Michael Joseph Mitchell), the play takes an immediate plunge into emotional chaos.
Though “The Goat” is risky to stage in an intimate space, Remy Bumppo’s production works, the set letter perfect down to the books first artfully lining the shelves, later hurled across the stage. Confronted with one of Albee’s rich, expressive scripts, directors often seem compelled to exaggerate the highs and minimize the lows, a move which destroys nuance and neuters vital work. Thankfully, James Bohnen for the most part sidesteps this hazard, instead directing his actors to explore reactions both explosive and understated. Armour proves particularly adept at this undertaking, although the obvious visual age difference between she and her spouse is distracting, adding an unintended dimension to their relationship. Though Sandy’s final moments court melodrama, Armour’s savage understatement lends just the right amount of gravity.
A lucid wordsmith, Albee has the unique ability to render the mundane poetic through elegant phrasing and calculated repetition. In life, people repeat themselves; in theater such reiteration must justify itself or risk boring the audience. Albee builds on repeating words and phrases like a composer revisiting and expanding upon a musical theme. In the end, the family’s soul wrenching fight is more than scathingly funny or shockingly grim. Instead, through meticulous examination of each member’s reality, Albee renders unmistakable the thin divide between the quotidian and the unfathomable.