Suburban bestiality

Ninelives takes on risqué play in conventional setting

Tom McGee, ArtSci ’08, plays one of the cast members of The Goat or, Who is Sylvia that opens tonight. The play takes audience members into taboo territory.
Tom McGee, ArtSci ’08, plays one of the cast members of The Goat or, Who is Sylvia that opens tonight. The play takes audience members into taboo territory.

Ninelives’ risqué production of Edward Albee’s The Goat or, Who is Sylvia explores the taboo topic of bestiality in one of the more provocative pieces of theatre the Queen’s community has produced in a while.

The play takes place in a typical family living room set in an upscale suburb. Martin, an architect played by Simon Paabor, has just won the prestigious Pritzker Prize and been granted a contract to design a large-scale living community in the American heartland. He’s also celebrating his fiftieth birthday. He and his loving wife Stevie, played by Merritt Crews, appear to have strolled onstage from a cheery Noel Coward play and the only problem Martin seems to have is his increasing forgetfulness.

But this happy portrait of domestic life doesn’t last long. When Martin’s friend Ross comes over to interview him, Martin grows more distant. After a substantial amount of prodding on Ross’ account, Martin admits he’s having an affair. And for the last six months he hasn’t been cheating on his wife with another woman, or another man for that matter. On the crest of a hill while searching for a home in the country Martin met Sylvia, a goat.

The setting, lighting, costumes and other production elements are kept quite simple. The play relies heavily on the performances of the actors and their ability to bring clarity to the script. We witness a family in crisis, but the actors also force us to seriously question our own morality.

Paabor’s performance is surprisingly sympathetic. He plays Martin with a sensitivity that helps the audience see the humanity in the situation. Although the plot sounds like an absurdist piece of theatre, the realistic nature of Paabor’s performance helps us see that bestiality may be a grave and complex, rather than simply abhorrent, issue.

Crews also delivers a performance. Her talent shines especially in the scene in which Stevie finds out her husband’s secret. Literally tearing their home apart, Stevie maniacally smashes a variety of expensive valuables seized from the living room décor.

The third member of the family is the couple’s 17-year-old gay son Billy, played by Andrew McWilliams, who successfully captures the awkwardness and confusion of adolescence. After the living room is destroyed, it’s Billy who tries desperately to put things back into place. And just when the audience begins to get comfortable with the subject matter, Billy brings another unmentionable subject to the plate.

The momentum of some of the scenes rises and falls quickly and with little indication as to why, impeding the audience’s understanding of the characters’ emotions and motives.

With such shocking taboos being shown in a very realistic light, you would not expect The Goat to be a play rife with comedy, but it is. Perhaps in Albee’s attempt to be shocking, he has chocked his play full of cultural references, word play and dark comedic moments.

“We always forget it’s funny,” said fourth-year student and director Kat Sandler, ArtSci ’08. “Nothing is played for comedy.” Ninelives’ production of The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? was a calculated risk, according to Sandler.

“We are university students, we should be taking these risks because now is the time,” Sandler said. “There are not many other companies who would be comfortable doing what we are. I think that The Goat takes risks in a way that is actually risky.” The play’s staged in Convocation Hall, a venue largely ignored by other directors because of its conventional design. But the space’s traditionalism creates an interesting tension between the unconventional subject matter and the orthodox stage. The result is a production that throws the audience off-kilter.

“This play requires a certain amount of distance,” Sandler said. “We subject our audience to a lot and you almost need a buffer that a proscenium arch allows for.” Regardless of the space between you and the action of this play, it will leave you asking questions. Despite the play dragging on too long—it’s about two hours, and could easily be cut down—The Goat is well worth your while.

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? opens Friday, March 28 at Convocation Hall and runs until March 30 with shows at 8 p.m. nightly and 2 p.m. matinees on the weekend. Tickets are $10 and are available at Destinations.

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