Presented by Bad Habit Productions, Inc.
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Daniel Morris
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger warnings: Rape (the play), F-bombs (the review)
(Boston, MA) WARNING: Spoilers ahead. The effort necessary to tiptoe around the main plot point of The Goat is so cumbersome that I’m not even going to bother trying.
The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? is about rape. It is about reconciling a sinner with their sin. It is about betrayal. It is not about the moralities of romantic love.
Martin (Steven L. Emanuelson) is a sociopath so mired in the separation anxiety generated by his own arrogance and entitlement that he rapes a goat. He claims that he’s in love with it. In a moment of desperation, Martin reveals his depravity to his best friend, Ross (Dale J. Young). Ross in turn warns Martin’s family. All things considered, they take the news pretty well: Stevie (Veronica Anastasio Wiseman) goes on a violent rampage; Billy (Luke Murtha) goes into shock. Martin attempts to explain himself. Martin’s family grapples with his choices. People can convince themselves of anything.
To be incontrovertibly clear: Sylvia is a goat (Capra aegagrus hircus). Sylvia is not a woman Martin met during cosplay or at a kink event (you do you, baby). She is literally a goat. No matter how one anthropomorphizes them, goats are incapable of consenting to sex with a human. This means that what transpired between Martin and Sylvia was rape. Martin feels no regret or shame for his actions. Rather, he impresses upon us that they are “in love.” This is not the behavior of a rational, healthy person. That Martin describes their intercourse as anything other than rape means that Martin is no longer a trustworthy, sane witness to his own experience.
All of this is immensely important because Emanuelson’s performance as Martin makes us forget that Martin has done something so reprehensible, so morally bankrupt that we start to sympathize with him… And not in a Devil’s Advocate, try seeing both sides kind of way. No, the audience rationalizes that just maybe there’s a sane person occupying Martin’s head who has valid, not-crazypants reasons for taking a literal roll in the hay with an actual, non-figurative goat.
Emanuelson has us so firmly by the balls that we not only like Martin, we go so far as to sympathize with this goat fucker’s loneliness. (I know this to be true firsthand because after the show there was a talk-back and certain sympathies for Martin were discussed with the cast and crew. We unironically discussed the human morality supporting sexual congress with a farm animal. There was a lot of uncomfortable laughter. Mostly mine.) Emanuelson must have done an amazing job because the alternatives are so absolutely horrifying that I refuse to consider them.
Wiseman delivers her performance as ticking time bomb Stevie with aplomb and poise. Her performance carries the weight of unspeakable betrayal and cumbersome self-doubt of one so flabbergasted by Martin’s degradation that she is barely capable of expression. Yet, she and Emanuelson carry on as if they are burdened by decades of mutual respect. She manages a dichotomy of love and hatred that can come only from a mature romantic relationship. Wiseman was intense and heartbreaking.
Young and Murtha were also excellent. Young’s physical comedy and voice of reason approach were refreshing. Murtha’s sincerity was necessary and sweet. They weren’t the focus of the production but without them it would not have been nearly so successful.
Notably, the character Sylvia is not given an opportunity to share her perspective. This is because she is a goat. If this play is about nothing else, it is about how people cope with tragedy, with infidelity so perfidious that reconciliation is impossible. That being true, Sylvia doesn’t get a say because she isn’t a person. anthropomorphizing depth onto Sylvia is a disservice that her innocent character doesn’t deserve*. To even imply that the power was in her hooves to yield to or deny Martin is to argue that slaves choose their enslavement. Power does not work that way. Sylvia isn’t capable of abstract thought much less choice. Martin, on the other hand, chose to repeatedly defile a goat; he chose to betray his wife; he chose to keep his actions a secret for months while he still had sex with his human wife. He chose to be a terrible person and he could equally have chosen not to. That his family and friend remained so composed is a near miracle.
*Victim-blaming is wrong.
A special thank you to Taylor Swift for the goat videos.