Stopping . . . after having started
The Goat never gets going
by Stuart Munro
(This review contains spoilers.)
About twenty minutes into ATIC Productions’s mounting of Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia, things start to go sideways for the characters. Martin is fucking a goat, and his wife Stevie—understandably—is having trouble with this. Unfortunately for everyone else, the production begins to go sideways around the same time and by the end of the evening, it’s clear no one has been on sure footing all night.
Things start off well enough. Tim Walker as Martin and Rosemary Doyle as Stevie seem to have some lovely chemistry, and they easily convinced me that their eighteen-year-marriage had been a happy one. Benjamin Blais as Ross begins a bit frantically (it was a full two minutes after his entrance that I finally got a good look at his face), but manages to carry out the rest of the first scene adequately; it wasn’t especially interesting, but it wasn’t awful either.
But as the lights come up for the second scene, the real core of the play, it quickly becomes clear that director Carter West is in over his head with the complex and delicate material of Albee’s Tony award winning and Pulitzer prize nominated play. The action is wild, the staging seemingly random, and the characters appear to have no real centre. Rosemary Doyle starts the scene as a broken, shattered woman, and stays a broken, shattered woman for the rest of the evening. There’s no journey to follow and no reason to share in her pain (I mean, except for the obvious goat-fucking related trauma). Ben Hayward as Billy, the son of Martin and Stevie, seemed unsure whether he should be comic relief or an additional source of drama. It is not surprising that he fails to be either.
Tim Walker is an exception to this. His portrayal of Martin is endearing and kind, thought out and carefully presented.
This is true of the whole production: it never manages to find that awkward and essential balance between the drama and comedy of the unnerving situation. Because this central scene has started off so emotionally charged, the audience is never given permission to appreciate the humour when it shows up. The result is nervous laughter at the jokes and stifled giggles at the more sensitive moments.
Tim Walker is an exception to this. His portrayal of Martin is endearing and kind, thought out and carefully presented. As he explains his first meeting with Sylvia (the titular goat) to his wife, we actually believe he is somehow in love with this animal. It’s too bad he seemed to be in a different play than the rest of the cast, and a shame they weren’t all there with him.
In his director’s notes, West explains that the “sensational aspects of this show [and it goes far beyond the goat] are such so that the audiences are left with a compelling reason to go home, get drunk and argue the night away about where they fall on the variety of issues raised.” If this is West’s hope, he has failed spectacularly.
I’ll be drinking for an entirely different reason.