Manbites Dog Theater: The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? Chronicles The Mother of All Midlife Crises
by Robert W. McDowell
The protagonist of Edward Albee’s 2002 Tony Award® for Best Play winner and 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama nominee The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? — an R-rated play for mature audiences playing Nov. 9-12 and 15-18 at Manbites Dog Theater in Durham, NC — is an increasingly befuddled middle-aged man named Martin Gray (Derrick Ivey), who has just turned 50 and is experiencing the mother of all midlife crises. On the surface, Martin has everything—and everything in abundance. He is an internationally famous architect who is currently working on an extremely lucrative commission to design a billion-dollar “dream city of the future,” somewhere in Kansas. He has just won the highly coveted Pritzker Prize, which is the world's most prestigious award in the field of architecture.
Intelligent, affluent, urbane, and normally highly articulate, Martin has a lovely home in the city that might well inspire an extended full-color photo spread in the pages of Architectural Digest; he is in the process of acquiring a country estate for a weekend and vacation retreat; and he has a lovely wife named Stevie (Elisabeth Lewis Corley), with whom the honeymoon has never ended, and a gay teenaged son named Billy (Gabriel Graetz), whom he loves dearly but doesn’t always understand or accept. Martin also has a lifelong friend named Ross Tuttle (David J. Berberian), who is the influential host of a television show entitled “People Who Matter” on which Martin has made numerous appearances.
It is hard to imagine a more attractive family or a more promising career; but in Albee’s absurdist comedy, subtitled “Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy,” Martin inarticulately sleepwalks through his latest “People Who Matter” interview, and his growing lassitude shocks Ross. Ross cuts off the camera, and Martin makes a startling confession: He is head-over-heels in love — and having sexual relations — with a goat who lives near the country estate that he’s about to buy. To say that his family and his friend Ross are shocked by this raunchy revelation is the understatement of this brand-new century—shocked and appalled is more like it, shocked and appalled—and in Stevie’s case—very, very angry. It is one thing to carry on an adulterous affair with a beautiful buxom blonde half your wife’s age; it is quite another thing altogether to break your marital vows with a farm animal with big brown eyes and long furry ears. Sylvia the goat must have some come-hither look.
Chapel Hill director Joseph Megel pilots this stellar Manbites Dog cast through the shocking subject matter of Albee’s script with an unerring sense of when to push the edges of the envelope. Bestiality has never been so funny. Megel elicits crisp comic characterizations from his cast, and combines with scenic designer Tracey Broome, lighting designer Joshua A. Reaves, costume designer Shannon Clark, and sound designer Nicholas Graetz to create perfect playing area (the Grays’ apartment is one of the most impressive Manbites Dog sets to date) and a heady atmosphere where these outrageous events can take place.
Derrick Ivey, who delighted Manbites Dog audiences with his passionate portrayal of the title character in Nixon’s Nixon, creates another truly unforgettable character with his remarkable portrait of poor, bewildered, tongue-tied Martin Gray, trapped in the throes of a passion that he cannot quite understand—yet hopeless to extract himself from his forbidden love for Sylvia—and on the verge of losing everything (family, friends, career) that he cherishes.
Megel’s wife, Elisabeth Lewis Corley, provides a perfect blackly comic foil as Martin’s once adoring but now righteously indignant wife Stevie; Gabriel Graetz is quite convincing as their sensitive son Billy, whose instinctive efforts to protect his mother provoke angry outbursts — and deeply wounding comments about his sexual orientation — from his furious father; and David Berberian makes Ross — whose man function in the plot is to ferret out and reveal Martin’s nasty little secret — a fully three-dimensional character despite a script that reduces Ross to a cameo character and stretches the limits of subject matter (and taste) appropriate for the stage to new, heretofore unimagined limits.
Manbites Dog Theater presents The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? Thursday-Saturday, Nov. 9-11; at 8:15 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 12, at 7:15 p.m.; and Wednesday-Saturday, Nov. 15-18, at 8:15 p.m. at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina. $10 Wednesday-Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday. 919/682-3343 or http://www.tix.com/Schedule.asp?OrganizationNumber=150. Manbites Dog Theater: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/165/. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=10961. Edward Albee: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=5258 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0016361/ (Internet Movie Database).