“Her breath… her breath was… so sweet, warm, and…” – Martin
As much as I believe in live theater as the best art form ever, I also know, alas, due to geographical, financial and time constraints, only a limited number of people have access to a particular play staged at a particular place. Thus, I imagine, recording and streaming the plays for fans all over the world would certainly make theatre a more democratic art form and help young generations fall in love with it, too. National Theatre Live, a project initiated by the Royal National Theatre in London, broadcasts, via satellite, live performances of their productions to movie theaters and art centers around the world. I hope, with technology at hand, this becomes common practice sooner than later.
Now, having made my desperate statement about theater, I feel extremely lucky to have seen The Goat, a brilliantly written play turned into an acting feast in the hands of the ridiculously talented quartet of Damian Lewis, Sophie Okonedo, Jason Hughes and Archie Madekwe. JaniaJania has already written a fantastic review of the play here and, with a little help from my memory and the pictures I have been able to find online, I will now try my best to “stream” The Goat for you with a bit of commentary on the side. Hope you enjoy it.
The Goat opens in an exposed brick, dimly lit living room impeccably decorated with modern furniture and art. A woman is arranging flowers and calling offstage:
“What time are they coming? Martin? What time are they coming?”
We hear Martin’s voice offstage before he appears on stage…
and then meet him wearing an “absent-minded professor” look.
Martin Gray is a prominent architect who has just turned 50 and become the youngest person to receive Pritzker Prize, often referred to as the “Nobel prize in architecture” and he is now taking on a commission of a lifetime to design a city of the future in the Midwest. Martin has a seemingly perfect family life with his loving wife Stevie and 17 year old son Billy who has recently come out as gay. But one of the first lines Stevie delivers sets the tone:
“The sense that everything going right is a sure sign that everything’s going wrong, of all the awful to come?”
As the couple is waiting for Ross, Martin’s oldest and best friend, to arrive and interview him for his TV program, Martin is having a bad memory day. He cannot find the new head for the razor, cannot remember Ross’ son’s name and has no idea about the business card he finds in his pocket. While he still knows how to turn on a girl (“Forehead kisses!”) and remembers to wear his prep school tie (“No one puts on their prep school tie by accident.”) Stevie notices Martin smells funny:
“Where have you been?”
A wife may avoid from joking about a potential affair her husband may be having. Not Stevie. She feels confident enough to joke Martin may be having an affair with Clarissa Atherton, whose business card he has, who probably smells funny. The couple gets into an exaggerated exchange with English accents and flamboyant gestures where Martin admits he is having an affair with a goat which gives Stevie more than a girly giggle.
As she goes to get the door, Martin talks to himself:
“You try to tell them; you try to be honest. What do they do? They laugh at you.”
As Ross comes in and sets up the camera, Stevie leaves to have her hair done adding she may also stop by the feed store! 😀
Martin is extremely distracted during the interview so much so that as he cannot sit still in his chair, you feel uneasy in your own seat. Ross cuts the interview. What is wrong with Martin?
“Maybe it’s… love or something.”
Ha! Ross KNOWS immediately Martin is having an affair and, guess what, he is super EXCITED. Is she blonde? Does she have big tits?
Ross represents the society we are living in. He exhibits a liberal side about Billy’s gayness but, probably feeling Martin has difficulty accepting it, he argues it is a “passing phase.” Ross is more than ready to look the other way about Martin having an affair. And he gets quite surprised to hear Martin has never cheated on Stevie in the 22 years they have been together and that he gives himself a hand job, thinking of Stevie, when away on a business trip.
“Wonderful. But WOW.”
They remember a college reunion years ago when Ross was already married to his first wife Rebecca and Martin was dating Stevie. They had prostitutes over, and while Ross had a fun evening, Martin could not perform. He was already in love with Stevie.
Ross: “What were their names?”
Martin: “Mine was Alice.”
Ross: Big girl.
Martin: Large Alice.
Ross: Right! Mine was Trudy, or Trixie, or…
Ross: Yes? April?
Martin: Yes. April.
Ross: Oh, shit; April is called April.
Ha! Guess what? Ross is currently married to April! And it makes sense he wanted to delete from memory how they started as a couple probably because it was not well received when it happened!
Ross notices Martin’s reluctance to share details and his obvious pain over his new love, but he wants to know more!
“I almost dare not ask this, but… who is Sylvia?”
Martin pulls a folded picture out of his wallet, and if you are in a front row, you have a partial view of the picture as it changes hands… The loud laugh-cry on Ross’ face is frozen the moment he gets it:
Ross: “THIS IS A GOAT! YOU’RE HAVING AN AFFAIR WITH A GOAT. YOU’RE FUCKING A GOAT!”
Martin: (After a long pause) “Yes.”
Bringing Martin to life requires a very convincing performance from the actor who tackles it. Because the audience needs to believe Martin is having an affair with a goat in the first place and then their reaction may vary from “surprised” to “disgusted.” We all know Damian never goes with the easy; but, he, being the master of playing a man with a double life, makes it look easy. He is so natural talking about Sylvia and his love for her. And the gasps and laughters in the theatre make you understand, first, the audience BELIEVES him, and, second, this is a cross-section of the society, too, that some have empathy for Martin while some feel quite uncomfortable about what is going on. Well, Albee wrote The Goat without an interval for a reason! 😀
While Ross abruptly takes his leave, Martin runs around like a headless chicken, taking off his jacket and his prep school tie, making you feel for a split second that he will hang himself with that tie. Now that his secret is out he is panicked. He knows he has crossed the line where the society may stop being tolerant and, in fact, may try to take matters into their own hands to keep everyone in line. And that is exactly what Ross does. He writes a letter to Stevie.
“Martin is having an affair with a certain Sylvia who, I am mortified to tell you… is a goat.”
Stevie is holding Ross’ letter in her hand. Billy, a gangling teenager, is deeply hurt that his dad is doing it with a goat.
Billy: “Goat fucker!”
Martin: “Fucking faggot!”
Billy: “At least what I do is with… persons!”
Well, how do you solve a problem like Sylvia?
Stevie points out possible scenarios everyone kind of accepts entering a marriage: early death, a stroke, emotional detachment, or even a husband starting to wear dresses. But THIS?!?!?!
It turns out, knowing people would find what he has been doing wrong, Martin has visited a place, run by a group leader who was “cured”, where people go to talk about what they do and with “whom.”
Stevie: “Not whom! What! With what!”
Albee has his well-known signature of characters correcting each other’s grammar and use of words, even in the middle of a deadly verbal argument, in The Goat and actors’ perfect delivery makes those moments even funnier than they are on paper.
Stevie is now curious about what the group leader was fucking.
“A pig. A young pig.”
Stevie kicks off the “breaking game” and breaks an object with every new detail she gets from Martin. For example, Clarissa Atherton, a woman that Martin met at the support group, who is fucking a dog, costs a vase!
When Stevie grabs a ceramic bowl, Martin begs her to sit and listen until he is finished: All those people he met at “the place” were ashamed and needed to talk about their “problem” while Martin went there not because he was ashamed but because he wanted to know why those people were.
What is wrong with being in love?
The bowl is now on the floor broken into hundred pieces exactly like Stevie’s heart and their marriage.
Martin wants Stevie to know he has never been unfaithful to her in their marriage. All men he knows are seeing other women and judging Martin for doing it only with his wife. It seems having an affair is not only acceptable but even expected in some circles! But, then again, what should we think about Martin blaming others to justify his own selfish behavior?
On another note, it is devastating to hear Martin talk about the woman who took up with a German Shepherd because she could not do it with people after years of being raped by her father and her brother as well as the hideously ugly man who did it with a goose because nobody would even think of doing it with him…
The Goat makes me struggle with the word “normal.” What defines normal? Who creates social taboos? Isn’t it mind-bending that what people find unacceptable in one culture may be normal in another? Remember living out of wedlock was a taboo for a long time and still is in many societies. So was interracial marriage. Can you believe only in 1994 more than half of the Americans approved of interracial marriage in general? And I love it that, deliberately or not, this production gives us an interracial marriage on stage! Or, imagine, what if the play is from 1950s and the photo Martin shows Ross is not of Sylvia the goat but Michael the man? Why can’t we try and have empathy when we cannot bring ourselves to have sympathy?
Having said that, I completely relate to Stevie in this scene and find her words about her love for Martin heartbreaking:
“I fell in love with you? No. I rose into love with you and have – what – cherished? You all these years, been proud of all you’ve done…”
And Martin, now all loosened up about Sylvia, compares the intensity of his new relationship to the time he and Stevie came at the same time a month after they started. What the fuck, Martin? And, you know, this is coming from someone who finds bestiality surprising but not necessarily disgusting.
Stevie: “How much do you hate me?”
Martin: “I love you. And I love her.”
Stevie’s loud howl, a wild combination of rage and pain, triggers Billy to come see what his parents are up to. But Martin and Stevie are so deeply engaged in destroying each other that they send him out to play (“Make mud pies; climb a tree…”) Stevie is now thinking Martin will fuck Billy next while Martin insists Billy is not his type and besides his relationship with Sylvia is not about a cunt but about a soul. Doesn’t Stevie know the difference?
“I love her… and she loves me, and…”
Stevie tells Martin to make her NOT BELIEVE it at the beginning of their argument; however, by the end of it, thanks to Martin’s outrageously candid account, she BELIEVES it.
“You have brought me down, and I will bring you down with me.”
We hear the front door slammed. Martin crawls on the floor, crying, then throws himself onto the couch, wrestles with himself, and finally passes out…
Billy finds him there a few hours later. Finding out his parents are fallible should be terrifying for any kid. And Billy, a callow 17 year old, has just found his world shattered beyond belief and certainly lost his sense of security. His words get to your heart:
“… while great old mom and great old dad have been doing the great old parent thing, one of them has been underneath the house, down in the cellar, digging a pit so deep, so wide, so HUGE…we’ll all fall in and never be able to climb out again—no matter how much we want to, how hard we try.”
Deeply hurt and confused, but still loving his dad, Billy wants Martin to hold him. When the moment briefly turns sexual with him kissing Martin on the hand, on his neck and finally on the mouth (BIG GASPS!!!) Martin pushes him back. But the moment he notices Ross in the room, he chooses not to be apologetic but sarcastic:
“This could go nicely into one of your fucking letters.”
While Ross repeatedly saying “sick” and “Jesus” to judge their kiss is SICK, Billy’s revelation that he was confused and Martin was just another man at that moment and that he wants to sleep with everyone BUT Ross is HILARIOUS. Besides, as someone who is sick and tired of the society judging left and right all the time, I want to jump on stage and scream at the top of my lungs to Ross: Yes, things may have turned sexual for a second. SO WHAT?
But then what to do with the story Martin shares next to make the point that things may happen and do not need to be related? While a man Martin goes to the gym with was once dandling his baby on his lap, the unimaginable happened: he started getting hard. Even though the moment was brief the man thought he would die. It was not sexual. It just happened. Hmm… It is quite obvious that a man you know from the gym would never share such a private story with you. But does this mean Martin has incestuous tendencies? I would still say things may happen and do not need to be related.
Ross finds Martin’s story “sick” but I find him writing that letter to Stevie sicker. And, his justification? Ross thinks Martin cannot get away with this. People will ultimately find out and it will be very damaging for his public image. Huh? So, can we do whatever we want as long as we can get by?
As Martin’s anguish hits you hard…
“Why can’t anyone understand this… that I am alone… all… alone”
…Stevie appears on stage dragging a dead goat wrapped in cloth. REVENGE. Well, no wonder Albee makes a reference to The Eumenides early in the play. Martin collapses in front of his family and his friend:
“What did she do? What did she ever do?”
Would Stevie have been able to kill Sylvia if she had been that young blonde with big tits? NO. But it seems while Stevie finds falling for a goat unimaginable, she finds killing that innocent animal practical.
What did Sylvia ever do?
“She loved you… you say. As much as I do.”
I don’t know how he does it but Damian makes Martin’s anguish, grief and surrender so palpable that you find yourself in tears. I have found a bit of Brody, a broken man who has no other option but surrender, here. Martin says “I’m sorry” to Billy, “I’m sorry” to Stevie and a third “I’m sorry” not particularly addressed to anyone, probably to his beloved Sylvia.
Billy, now a little boy struggling to understand what is next, has the last lines:
The Goat, thanks to Albee’s fantastic use of humor, draws a lot of laughter (well, it is difficult at times to distinguish the real from the uncomfortable), yet it is ultimately a tragedy. It is, after all, about a man destroying his own life, a life many would kill to have. And I don’t think Albee putting “notes toward a definition of a tragedy” in parentheses below the title of the play nor the Greek word for tragedy tragoidia (tragos “goat” – oida “song”) literally meaning “goat song” is a coincidence in that regard. And if you think of Sylvia as the “sacrificial goat” offered to the gods, could the Grays be able to get their shit together and move on?
The play, as much as Damian takes the stage by storm for the entire hour and 50 minutes, is an ensemble act. Sophie Okonedo brings an equal parts devastated and disgusted Stevie to life while Jason Hughes shines as morally ambiguous Ross. Billy’s awkwardness and confusion in the hands of Archie Madekwe is quite moving. Pay attention to this young man! He is way ahead of his years on stage and I know I will brag about having seen him in his West End debut in the years to come. Standing Ovation!