You'd think it impossible to write a family drama about a man who regularly fornicates with a goat. But in Edward Albee's The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, currently onstage at the Springs Ensemble Theatre, four exquisitely written characters come closer to each other than they ever imagined possible, and, with linguistic brio, let her rip. It results in a hypnotic, lyrical and humorous production, distinguished by uniformly outstanding performances and chess-master-like direction by Max Ferguson.
Though Albee has a closet full of shammy dramatic caprices, such as The Man Who Had Three Arms, this isn't one of them. Here, he emerges as that other Albee, the one who's our only surviving member of the anthologized pantheon of great American dramatists that includes Miller, Williams, Hellman, O'Neill and Inge.
In The Goat, Albee follows a classic pattern of Greek tragedy, enlisting architect Martin (Steve Emily), at the summit of his success, to do the work of Oedipus. At the discovery of his romance with a barnyard animal he becomes, in the eyes of his adoring wife Stevie (Amy Brooks), best friend Ross (Tom Auclair) and gay son Billy (Christian O'Shaunessy), "a monster," as Stevie harshly designates him before subjecting Martin to monstrous consequences of her own.
But consider this: At first, it seems, once the horse (or goat) is out of the barn, that Martin and his nearest and dearest aren't really talking about a goat at all, or the implications of bestiality. His beloved "Sylvia" may be some other life form, a quadruped, but stubbornly half-human, at least to Martin, and therefore within range of family understanding, compassion and the institutionalized excuses of modern marriage.
What is alarming to one and all is that Martin is actually part of a collective rural phenomenon. Decades of complex techno-development and head-for-the-hills stress management have induced anxious and bewildered urbanites like Martin, longing for some connection to the natural world, to look beyond the sniff-and-squeeze dynamics of the farmers market and stumbling into the countryside for an encounter with the real, living thing.
"Those country smells," Martin confesses, "give me a shiver."
Thus goats, sheep, chickens, dogs, or anything phallically penetrable is, pardon the expression, game, for the joys of love. Moreover, the animals themselves don't seem to resist the practice in any discernible way. The overall impression Albee creates is quietly, but disturbingly, Edenic. As a playwright, he neither defends nor prosecutes Martin, to strangely calming effect.
But Albee leaves no doubt as to the lost horizon of marital stability sacrificed by Martin's transgression. Ms. Brooks lays out the sumptuous terrain Martin has squandered for them on their way to an enviable coexistence and eternal rest.
Meanwhile, Auclair establishes a genuine brotherliness with Martin, but turns with coldest resolution to the severest enforcer of social condemnation and punishing moral codes against his lifelong friend. And as Billy, Martin's son and most vulnerable dependent, Mr. O'Shaunessy electrifies those present with a demand that Martin's problem will be forced into the open, and resolved.
June Scott Barfield's set design says everything needed about Martin and Stevie's affluent place in the world, of Martin's eclectic tastes, and the direction the couple is heading. To the side she has added, with telling inconspicuousness, a miniature wall mount replica of a bighorn sheep, unnoticed by anyone, even at the height of their awareness.
Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky
In director Scott RC Levy's ponderous Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky, the slow pull out of drowsy, mind-numbing characterizations offers all the magic and robustness of gall bladder surgery. Despite Christopher Sheley's evocative set, thinly sung ballads and swampily paced acting keep the audience at a distance from Floyd and Clea's vagabond travels till long after the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center show is underway.
Floyd is a survivor, just barely, of a punishing 20-year showbiz regimen that nonetheless includes significant high points of artistry and endurance. His alcoholism, like the dilapidated 1962 Studebaker he calls home, is a mongrel's attempt to both comfort and self-destruct in equal doses.
"I don't have a necessary piece of machinery," he concludes, referring not to the broken-down car, but his own survival mechanism. Enter Clea, a sprightly recording-star hopeful, struggling with her own issues of Mormonism, church-condemned sexual urges and family dysfunction.
Composer of book, music and lyrics, David Cale, seeks a lightly comedic balance between the two, played by the talented Jordan Leigh and Chelsea Ringer. But the tepid onstage music compounds the difficulty of finding your way into their yarn.
Their search takes them from Lubbock, Texas to Great Falls, Montana, when Clea departs finally for Los Angeles and Floyd must go it alone in Austin, Texas. In one of Cale's better songs, Floyd rejoices in the solid footing of a steady, low-wage janitorial job, AA meetings, and a single-room occupancy over a jewelry store; Leigh pulls it off with credible charm.
Clea is one of the best roles written for a singer/actress imaginable, but a performer of young Shirley MacLaine caliber is required to play it. Her songs and exchanges with Floyd betray Clea's helpless attraction to him, of an emerging sexuality she at once fears and desires for fulfillment. The possibilities here seem missed early on by either Ringer or Levy, and Clea's maturity in this direction is left for the audience unanswered.
What we see instead is that Clea becomes a sizzling country-girl screen star in L.A., and a heroin addict. Her changing fortunes, and Floyd's in Austin, are linked to a song about Clea that Floyd wrote back in a borrowed Montana motel room they shared. That song is paying sudden and handsome royalties to Floyd; the fantasy jackpot of countless songsters actually happens, and it assures his rehabilitation as it would anyone's.
Money, it appears, can drop out of nowhere to the rescue for any of us at any time, as the songs go. Gosh, really?
But it also acts as a phony substitute for what the show and its principals sorely lack: power. Vocal, hormonally charged, and indomitable power, the trademark survival trait of inextinguishable come-back, country-and-western down-and-outers in song after song. Floyd and Clea are such lightweights in this department (Clea showing some signs, however) that we often wonder that they aren't tossed and carried away like Kansas tumbleweeds.