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Beauty and the Bestiality: Animal Lover

Ed Rampell: This production of Edward Albee’s The Goat Or, Who Is Sylvia? is simply one of the best plays this reviewer has seen in, well, a dog’s age. The acting is riveting, Ken Sawyer’s direction taut and Albee’s writing letter perfect.
the goat

Spencer Morrissey, Paul Witten, Ann Noble, Matt Kirkwood.


Disclaimer: No animals were harmed during the writing of this review -- although there may be plot spoilers.

Let’s just cut to the chase: This production of Edward Albee’s The GoatOr,Who Is Sylvia? is simply one of the best plays this reviewer has seen in, well, a dog’s age. The acting is riveting, Ken Sawyer’s direction taut and Albee’s writing letter perfect. Late in his career, the now 86-year-old playwright who gave us Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf -- with its scathing, scalding critique of (heterosexual) marriage -- way back in 1961, conjured up this pushing-the-envelope drama (albeit one with lots of laughs) in 2002.

The Goat is just ideal to present on the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s boards: As homosexuality and gay marriage increasingly gain acceptance and tolerance in 21st century America, Albee the gadfly moves the goalposts. Note the plural, for in The Goat the daring dramatist explores several types of sexual relationships that are universally considered to simply be beyond the pale of polite society. To find out what taboo forms of sexuality Albee alludes to, you’ll just have to hoof it down to the Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre yourself -- and unless you’re a puritanical, patriarchal overzealous proponent of heterosexual monogamous sex (preferably only after marriage for procreative purposes), you’ll likely be glad you did.

Ann Noble is absolutely stellar as Stevie who, on the surface, has the ideal marriage to award winning architect Martin (Paul Witten, who, in a bit of copasetic casting, played a makeup artist in HBO’s 2013 Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra). In The Goat our favorite Martin is turning 50 -- and has the über-midlife crisis to end them all. Martin’s outrageous acting out at the mid-century mark makes buying a Lamborghini, or pursuing a trophy woman half his age, seem tame in comparison.

Needless to say, Martin’s unorthodox (to say the least) choice completely disrupts his life and household. Best friend Ross (Matt Kirkwood) goes ape shit. Son Billy (Spencer Morrissey) now finds coping with being gay the least of his problems as his formerly idyllic family life comes to a screeching halt. And as for the wronged woman, for wife Stevie it’s literally up against the wall, motherfucker! (You’ll see what this critic means. BTW ticket buyer: If you value your personal safety your ever considerate scribbler recommends that you do NOT sit in the first row, which is about as safe as front row seats at a Samoan fire knife dance show. You have been warned, Dear Reader!)

the goat

And now a word about Ann Noble: Your erstwhile scribe last had the pleasure of seeing her roam the moors and heaths of Antaeus Company’s 2012 Macbeth wherein, his review singled out “Noble as Lady MacBeth …the ultimate henpecker, ever prodding her beleaguered husband on. She’s more terrifying than Scotland’s other infamous horror, the Loch Ness Monster. Noble is positively harrowing with her crimson locks and reddish period outfit, all redolent of her blood obsessed psyche…” Considering the twists and turns The Goat takes one could say, with tongue planted firmly in cheeky cheek, that Noble is in “danger” of being typecast. What’s next? Starring as “Norma Bates” in a female version of Hitchcock’s classic, re-titled Psycho’s Psyche?

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What makes Marty run? Noble’s performance, sculpted with the finesse of a Rodin or Michelangelo, provides clues. Her Stevie (hmm, odd choice of names selected by the gay bard, eh wot?) seems like a person full of artifice, who acts out roles in her daily life, such as dutiful wife or urbane sophisticate. For instance, in a vignette full of Albee’s dazzling wordplay, she and Martin partake in well-rehearsed (that is, by the characters -- although these polished thesps obviously all worked their tails off) banter, expertly parodying a British comedy of manners.

So the role playing, persona-wearing Stevie stands in sharp contrast to her husband’s devastating, off-kilter choice, which is to pursue a totally (literally) natural partner, who, as Martin says, is completely “guileless.” Noble, by the way, has lovely thighs and a heaving bosom; although this may strike some as sexist, this is important to note as it makes Martin’s actions seem even stranger and more bafflingly incomprehensible. The fact that we’re repeatedly informed that, as husband and wife for 20-ish years, Stevie and Martin never strayed and maintained a fulfilling, even exciting sex life, all conspires to make hubby’s philandering all the more mystifyingly puzzling.

Albee is asking a simple yet profound question: Do we have the right to love who we want and in our own ways? Especially if said love is consensual? Do you remember how much outrage Woody Allen’s defense of his romance with his wife’s much younger (and shall we add non-white -- let alone non-Jewish) daughter was? “The heart wants what the hearts wants.” Well, The Goat takes the Woodman’s notion to the nth degree. What is especially telling is Martin’s honest response when he attends a 12-step type program for those “suffering” from similar afflictions

the goat

Robert Selander’s stylish set -- or what’s left of it by the end of this one-acter -- also merits mention as it succinctly expresses the personalities of the play’s chic urbanites. The entire deftly directed ensemble is spot on, with the Noble savage the standout, proving once again -- as she did when portraying Lady Macbeth -- that: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Seriously fellow theatergoers, please roll out a wheelbarrow full of Ovation, Tony, Obie, etc., awards for this actress, as Ann Noble deserves a flock of theatrical accolades while she leads the lyrical lambs to slaughter. Those who love great theater should gallop -- on all fours -- down to see this hilariously provocative dramedy from one of our boundary-pushing peerless bards.

The Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center presents The GoatOr,Who Is Sylvia? on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. at the Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center at Ed Gould Plaza,1125 McCadden Place, Hollywood, CA, 90038 through Nov. 23. Free onsite parking. For more info: or call: (323) 860-7300.

Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell

L.A.-based reviewer Ed Rampell co-authored “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.” (See: Rampell and co-author Luis Reyes will be signing books at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 6 at the bookstore Distant Lands, 20 S. Raymond Avenue,
Pasadena, CA 91105. (See: