The Goat or Who is Sylvia? at Silo Theatre

By Reviewed by Paul Simei-Barton

The premise of Edward Albee's The Goat is so well known that the first act becomes an exercise in dramatic irony.

Although the audience is acutely attuned to the most fleeting reference to quadrupeds, the characters on stage appear blissfully unaware that their lives are about to shattered when one of them confesses to having an affair with a goat.

But even with foreknowledge, the revelation packs a punch. What makes it shocking is that the protagonist - a renowned architect at the peak of his career - refuses to describe his descent into bestiality as anything other than a love affair.

Since the play was first performed in 2002, volumes have been written about the meaning of this inter-species liaison. Some see the story as a plea for tolerance, but if this is the case it does little more than draw attention to the vast chasm that separates New York intellectuals from the godly folk who re-elected George W. Bush.

More significant is the suggestion that the play redefines the classical idea of tragedy by exposing the unknowable and potentially destructive core of the human psyche.

Bestiality as a concept is both laughable and deeply disgusting, and the drama constantly juxtaposes these emotions. Much of the humour arises from the struggle to find appropriate language for the topic.

The characters switch rapidly between expletive-laden crudity and sophisticated wordplay. Moments of agonising intensity are punctured by an absurd insistence on semantic precision.

Oliver Driver's direction shows a fine sensitivity for this mingling of pathos and humour. The effect is deeply disturbing, with the laughter often ending abruptly as the those in the audience are forced to think about why they are laughing.

The strong cast is anchored by the paring of Michael Hurst and Jennifer Ward-Lealand.

Their highly charged verbal duels perfectly capture the blend of naturalism and high theatricality that gives the production such an engaging quality.

There can be few roles in contemporary theatre that are more demanding than the part of Martin Grey. Not only must the actor make the relationship with the goat seem believable, but he must transcend the absurdity of the situation and carry the story into the realm of tragedy.

Michael Hurst rises to the challenge with a performance that draws on the full range of his remarkable talent.

As he painfully strives to explain himself, he is operating at the extreme limit of what words can convey, giving voice to things beyond comprehension. In his determination to express the inexpressible Hurst imbues this unlikely character with a poignant, almost heroic sense of dignity.

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 23 Sep 2014 07:03:09 Processing Time: 560ms