Stevie (Claudia Karvan) is happily married to Martin, a successful architect. As liberal-minded intellectuals, they are both supportive of their 17-year-old son, Billy who has just come out as gay. However, Martin is about to throw a spanner into the works.
He still loves Stevie but as he confides in all seriousness to his best mate, Ross (Mark Saturno), he has also fallen in love with … a goat named Sylvia. An incredulous Ross lets Stevie know what’s going on in her marriage and as you’d expect, all hell literally breaks loose. In one tragi-comic scene, Stevie breaks one of her pieces of precious crockery each time Martin reveals one more fact about his double life with Sylvia.
As Martin explains it, “I was barn hunting and I was getting back in the car when I saw her… just looking at me with those eyes. It was love but I didn’t know it back then. It wasn’t anything I’d felt before.”
Karvan, who is best known for her film and TV work, is relishing being back on stage after a 25-year absence. She says of this Tony-award winning play by Edward Albee: “It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s emotional, it’s absurd. It’s got this cryptic layer of magic over the top of it [and] it moves you in a really quite mysterious, unknowable way.”
There are plenty of laughs, for example, as Stevie tells Martin: “I’ve never had an affair in all our years together… not even with a cat!” But the premise of the story is obviously tragic as both Stevie and Billy (Yazeed Daher) are justifiably thrown into disarray by Martin’s revelation. Stevie’s dual horror and grief are encapsulated when she says: “You have brought me down to nothing. You goat-f***er. You love of my life.”
There is also a fleeting reference to incest in the play, and so the audience is asked to ponder why some societal norms and behaviours are acceptable and some are not. After all, less than 20 years ago, Billy’s homosexuality would have been classified as criminal behaviour under the law.
It is also about the invisible line in every marriage beyond which you can’t step if you wish to maintain your relationship. For some, it may be that your partner radically changes their political stance, for others it may be gambling or alcohol abuse. In this play, it is infidelity – albeit with a goat rather than a person (which may or may not be easier to accept).
The four actors acquit themselves well, but I was most moved by Nathan Page as Martin, who is as surprised by his new love as his wife and son are – but it’s clear he won’t accept his relationship with Sylvia being reduced to mere bestiality. As he says: “I love her and she loves me.”
So how is it resolved? You’ll have to go see the play to find out.
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?
Until 1 April, 2023