Damian Lewis Owns Edward Albee’s The Goat on Stage

A play is as good as its writing and acting. This is precisely what makes Albee and Lewis’ “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” a rare jewel. Yes, it is Edward Albee who wrote it, but it is Damian Lewis who owns it on stage.

Albee’s The Goat is one of the finest plays I have ever read or seen. I would be extremely lucky if I read a better one in my life time — minimalist and impeccable writing, full of punches back to back to the reader’s paradigm of morality.

Albee’s canvas is humor, yet he paints a tragedy. I believe it is this humor that makes us lower our moral guards and lets the tragic story of the protagonist, who happens to be a goat fucker, touch our humanity. While laughing at the lines, we the viewers start visualizing a world that resides outside of our balloon of morality and realm, eventually understand and feel the protagonist’s brutal pain. And that is all presented in the most accessible but incredibly artistic form in The Goat.

The Goat tells as much about societal and moral bias for the unfamiliar as it tells about the pain and suffering this bias causes on that unfamiliar. The play is a powerful critique of societal bias to the extent that it makes us feel the pain it causes. That is why, in my humble opinion, The Goat surpasses everything else I have read or seen that tries to dig into social norms and human psychology. All this subtlety comes alive in Damian Lewis’ seamless delivery on stage. Therefore, it is Albee’s as well as Lewis’ genius that makes this production unique.

Damian Lewis, aka Martin the goat fucker, is restless, cannot communicate with his wife. He tells her about the goat early in the play and she has a good laugh about it. He tries to be honest but…

“What do they do? They laugh at you.”

It is here that we face the strange truth for the first time while laughing at it.

Once Martin is out of closet, he is not apologetic. He constantly tries to explain it. He says he has been to a place run by a person “cured” from pig fucking. That place is, in Martin’s wife Stevie’s words, Goat Fuckers Anonymous. We understand this and laugh out loud, because Albee tells us about it in terms we have familiarity with: Alcoholics Anonymous. Yet, with this familiarity, our moral bias for the unfamiliar comes to the surface as well. Alcoholism is bad, and so is goat fucking.

But Martin goes to that meeting not because he thinks what he is doing is wrong. He goes there to understand why people at that place feel bad about what they are doing. Damian’s delivery of these lines is both analytic and humane: He postulates the question of why goat fucking could be wrong; at the same time, he conveys Martin’s feeling that it can be OK, no, actually, it can be a beautiful thing to fall in love with an animal. What a difficult task to assume! And it is certainly these moments that make us get fascinated by Damian’s art.

Albee’s brilliance shines everywhere in the play. But it is after Damian’s delivery that I leave the theater with a fresh understanding of the unfamiliar and the unintended cruelties our moral biases may bring on others: To Stevie (or to society), it is not OK to fuck a goat, but it is OK to kill her. And when Damian says “What did she do? What did she ever do?” after meeting the dead body of his beloved Sylvia, I cannot hold my tears back. It is a very intense and believable delivery. The slain body of Sylvia on the stage is no longer a goat to me, it is a she and Martin’s love for her is genuine in the most real and human way possible.

At the end, another innocent is slain when Damian apologizes first to his son, then to his wife, finally to emptiness. Martin gives up…

This play is not about how one could fall in love with a goat, it is about what if one falls in love with a goat. Nobody has formulated the question better than Albee and nobody could deliver it better than Lewis…

Some bits and pieces:

No, it is not a mistake that I have used “Damian” and “Martin” interchangeably in the review. Damian is Martin and that is his brilliance.

I understand now why there is no intermission in this play: It is a complicated roller-coaster of humor and tragedy. Once the roller-coaster leaves the station, there can be no stop until the end.

The rest of the cast is also incredible. Jason Hughes as Martin’s best friend Ross, Sophie Okonedo as his wife Stevie and Archie Madekwe as his son Billy are simply superb. And when Archie becomes famous, and he will, I will tell people — as Damianista puts it — I was there at his stage debut, and I will be the coolest cucumber in the room!

What do I mean by “The Goat surpasses everything else that I have read”? A couple of things. For example, I enjoyed reading Dostoyevsky a lot in college. He was the first to teach me human psychology. However, as I kept reading him, I felt like he left nothing to imagination. It was like porn, if I may say. Albee’s writing, on the other hand, is subtler, like erotica, if I may say. Second, one of the plays that comes close to The Goat in terms of criticizing social norms is Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Written back in 1879, that play is about women, how male-dominated society suppresses the other “half” of the population. This could apply to similar problems in today’s society such as class struggle, urban dominance, income inequality, etc.

The Goat, on the other hand, speaks for the unspoken few. It could be about one’s love for a goat, about someone who cannot identify as male or female, or about some other human essence that we cannot imagine. That makes the play equally, if not more, timeless in my opinion. Last but not least, think of Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. What a delicate character! Many of us must have met a similarly broken person in our lives. Martin, on the other hand, is broken in an unimaginable way. Yet, Albee’s writing and Damian’s delivery of the character makes us imagine the unimaginable and believe it. This may be an impossible wish but I very much hope this production comes to Broadway or goes to some other place as well.

Finally, our own Damian pulling our very own Damianista aside at the stage door to have a long conversation after such a demanding play was cool. That dude is really sweet… and I believe that story is coming tomorrow.

source: Damianista

10 thoughts on “Damian Lewis Owns Edward Albee’s The Goat on Stage”

    1. Lewisto,
      reviews like yours make me feel less of a loss since I had to miss the actual performance. Beautifully written, grabs my soul and I understand the play so much better.
      It also impressed me today how insular this play is, written for urban, contemporary western audiences. If I go a 100 miles outside my metropolis the relationship between man and animal is already different. Country jokes frequently involve men and animalsThe loneliness of the man grazing sheep in the high mountains sets a different stage for those dramas. As we go back to the mythical past gods appear on the stage with man and animals, Anubis, Poseidon or Leda and the swan.

      When illness forces me to spend much time in bed I frequently watch shows about veterinarians. The passion some owners feel for their pets is amazing. I wonder if anyone has studied it and written analytically about the origin, nature and types of feelings it might encompass.

      1. Thanks Agnes, I am glad you liked it. Reading your fan story and knowing about your cancelled travel plans for the Goat, I kept you in my mind while watching it 🙂

        You must have a more informed view of it, but I could not agree more with what you say about the relationship between man and animal in rural areas. I grew up in a city, but luckily a little closer to the land. People’s relationship with their animals in rural areas were, if I may say, more mature (not in an adultery sense 🙂 ). The kind of affection they expressed probably did not look like the affection of a pet owner for his/her pet, but they definitely used to treat their animals more like an adult, and the affection and respect were both there.

        And your question about the origin, nature and types of feelings some owners feel for their pets is a very interesting one indeed.

        Now you say it, I realize how Martin himself being an urbanite is another clever choice in the play!

        Hope the Goat comes to the US and you and many other theater/Damian lovers have chance to see it.


      2. Hi Agnes,

        Interesting you mention the differences btw country and city in reception of this play. In his support group, Martin meets people from the country who did what they did because everyone did it, it was expected, not a big deal….yet still “wrong” enough for them to be in a support group for their affliction. That litany he gives telling Stevie (and us) about all the folks with the same “problem” in his support group really set the entire thing in context.

        Always love when you stop by and comment! 🙂

    2. oh I would love to hear the pronunciation of “Ommmeegggeeerrrddd” from you, I hope I can at some point 🙂 🙂 🙂

  1. Well, you did it! You first said you wanted to write a paragraph but I see one thing led to another 😀 I am so glad you were able to tell Damian at stage door what you thought about the play, but I cannot be happier that you now have the longer version on the blog. Thank you!

    I am very surprised that you see the “no intermission” in a complete different way than I do, and you know what, you may be right! (and you know I do not say this often!!!!) 😀

    The comparisons to other plays we have seen earlier is so spot on! And I really LOVE your understanding of Martin’s feelings. He is not apologetic. He tries to explain. And he gives up in the end seeing that this is a fight that he will never be able to win. His apology to emptiness… Do you think he says he is sorry to the society? Or to his beloved Sylvia? I am still thinking about it… but I thought he would have turned to Ross should he have apologized to the society… Ah, it’s been over a month and I am still thinking about what is what in The Goat!

    Finally, I don’t care if it sounds cheesy but thank you for being the ultimate partner-in-crime! 😀

    1. well, first thing first, thanks to you ladies for letting me play with you 🙂 and I like cheesy everything. I like macaroni and cheese, the cheesier the better. cheese is good.

      Your argument that Ross represents society makes complete sense. Then Martin should be apologizing to Sylvia when he says “I am sorry” to emptiness. That makes it even a more dramatic end, I guess.

  2. Yeah, thank you for such a thoughtful reading of this great play!!

    “I believe it is this humor that makes us lower our moral guards and lets the tragic story of the protagonist, who happens to be a goat fucker, touch our humanity.”

    Could not agree more! Humor has a way of separating ourselves from ourselves for a minute. We can only take things seriously (ie see the truth in something) once we start taking ourselves (ie our own prejudices and ways of seeing) less seriously. With The Goat, we laugh at the fun Albee has with words and the overall ridiculousness of the conceit, but, ultimately, we find ourselves not laughing at all, but just curiously and quite surprisingly wondering “what if”.

    “I leave the theater with a fresh understanding of the unfamiliar and the unintended cruelties our moral biases may bring on others”

    Yes! Our moral biases are certainly not as carved-in-stone as we like to think they are. Damian’s delivery in that last scene was perfect. The play on paper had emphasis on those same lines “what did she ever do?”, but the way Damian translated it all absolutely evoked both the love and the loss.

    “This play is not about how one could fall in love with a goat, it is about what if one falls in love with a goat.”

    Totally. The cat’s out of the bag very early in the story. And Albee leaves us to deal with it. It’s sort of confrontational in that way, but, if we accept one goal of art, and of theater, in particular, is to wake us up from our day-to-day stupor, Albee confronting us in the way he does works! So, unlike the other Albee play, staged just around the corner from The Goat, a play that also dealt with the harsh realities and minor/major cruelties within a marriage, did not go any deeper than those themes. The Goat, though it may have been less popular, went far deeper. You’ve captured that depth beautifully in this post!

    Re: Damian listening so closely to Damianista… Words fail. I so love and am so grateful that I’m even one degree removed from this relationship between Damian and the best fan the guy could ever have.

    1. Thanks JaniaJania. and this is kind of a selfish “thank you” as you’ve just elaborated these points much better than I could ever do 🙂

      I completely agree with you that Albee surpasses his own “Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf” in the Goat. It is an absolutely brilliant play! For example, borrowing your lines, “Whereas the others engaged in bestiality due to childhood trauma or disfiguring ugliness or out of habit, Martin absolutely believed in his love for Sylvia”, what a brilliant way engaging the audience with the possibility of a true love for an animal by discarding all other potential explanations via the protagonist’s own discussion, wow!

    2. Lewisto has been constantly talking about The Goat since we saw it a month ago so I cannot be happier he decided to sit down and write his thoughts on the play. And, he was the brave one, between the two of us, to say he LOVED The Goat more than Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I think I was still thinking, even though I loved The Goat more and I found it deeper, too, exactly like you two, that maybe it was my bias 😀

      While Damian’s last scene in The Goat brought tears to Lewisto’s eyes, the last part of your comment has just done the same to me. Thank you for being so kind, for being an amazing partner, and a true friend <3

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