Edward Albee’s ‘The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?’ at Schenectady Civic Players

Edward Albee has stated that theater should make people uncomfortable in order to show them how they really behave. His play, “The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?” as produced by Schenectady Civic Players, will definitely make you uncomfortable. It will also make you laugh and make you think about the limits of your tolerance, as well as that of society. He achieves this by having the central character behave outside the rules of the so-called liberal society. “Some things are so awful you have to laugh.”

Martin is a 50-year-old supposedly in a loving relationship with his wife, Stevie. They have a gay teenage son, Billy, to whom they are giving a decent childhood. Yet we soon learn through Martin’s conversation with his best friend, Ross, that Martin is also in love with Sylvia. She just so happens to be… a goat. Here, director Melissa Putterman Hoffmann takes an early intermission, after which she deftly guides the cast and audience through a very difficult subject matter without too much emphasis on the absurd.

Schenectady Civic veteran Michael Schaefer portrays Martin as wonderfully confused in Act 1. In the second scene, he at times seems uncomfortable in his character’s skin (who among us wouldn’t be?); yet after this apparent struggle to relate to a character who performs bestiality, he overcomes by brilliantly channeling the humanity of the character in the final scene, humanity shining through with a range from compassion to grief. Jennifer Van Iderstyne portrays Stevie with energetic exchanges in the first scene, then wrings herself through a wide range of emotions in the second act. Jeff Lurie gives a strong reveal before intermission, with his character serving as a surrogate for judgmental society as a whole. Aidan White plays son Billy with stereotypical teenage reactions in the first scene, as the script probably intends. Then Aidan blossoms this character into a deep, believable one as the play continues. He skillfully portrays the conflicted Billy as also full of love and empathy.

Highlights of the technical elements include how the muted tones of the deep set put the focus on the characters within it (though spots could’ve used another coat of paint). The sound was designed by the show’s actress pulling double duty and contained some discordant music, perhaps meant to mirror the absurd comedy on stage. Finally, Props Mistress Melissa Peterson excelled with her heavy workload on this production, including some wonderful breakable objects.

So go see “The Goat,” and have a laugh and a think. Go if you like dark, dark comedy and/or theater that tests your preconceived notions. Go and watch this 2002 Tony Award winner for Best Play. And revel in being uncomfortable.

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