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STAGE REVIEW

Lyric Stage's 'Goat' is full of kicks

The beastly wait is over. ''The Goat" has arrived in Boston, and it is -- pardon the mixed metaphor -- definitely worth crowing about.

In fact, the Edward Albee wait is over. Although there have been major commercial productions of his work in Boston and smaller companies have taken their turns at his recent plays, Albee hasn't had a prominent champion in the area since David Wheeler's Theater Company of Boston in the 1970s. Neither the Huntington Theatre Company nor the American Repertory Theatre has ever done a play of Albee's.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so did Spiro Veloudos, the artistic director of the Lyric Stage Company, who has been trying to get ''The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" since seeing it in New York, where it won the Tony Award in 2002.

And he makes the most of this opportunity. ''The Goat" is one of those plays that's a director's and actor's dream. The story of a man who blows up his perfect life all for the love of a farm animal -- and we're not talking Platonic love -- is both hysterically funny and jaw-droppingly tragic. It's naturalistic in form, but with a dollop of absurdism.

Veloudos's direction is masterful. All the play's disparate elements are in proper proportions, with help from four gifted actors. The Architectural Digest set design by Brynna C. Bloomfield, complete with modern art and ancient artifacts, couldn't be better in capturing the bourgeois contentment that ''The Goat" deftly punctures.

The self-satisfaction of the American Dream has been a target of Albee's from ''The Zoo Story" in 1958 and ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in 1962 through his later plays. Self-satisfaction turns to self-deception in Albee's work, and in ''The Goat" it does so with roller-coaster rapidity.

Martin is a character who has it all. He's an internationally renowned architect. His wife is the only woman he's ever wanted. His son is gay, and Martin can congratulate himself that he didn't need ''Seinfeld" to tell him there's nothing wrong with that.

But perhaps it's our fate that there will always be a love that dare not speak its name. No matter how we pride ourselves on tolerance, there will always be something to test that tolerance. And no matter how we arrange our perfect families, there will always be temptation.

Albee floats these themes, in part by seducing us at first into thinking that we're watching a comedy Noel Coward, whom he both admires and emulates, might have written had he come along in the 21st century.

The actors make that seduction tangible. As Martin's wife, Stevie, Paula Plum shows wider range than Mercedes Ruehl in the original Broadway production. She covers the f's -- flirtatious, funny, flummoxed, and furious -- and takes each sharp turn with such smoothness that she all but makes this Stevie's story. Plum's real-life husband, Richard Snee, plays Ross, a friend of the family. His reactions to Martin's love affair are textbook examples of comic timing.

The other two men play it straighter than in the Broadway production, with more mixed results. Stephen Schnetzer, who stepped in at the last minute after understudying the lead role in New York, is an excellent everyman, which serves the purpose of the play, though it gets the proceedings off to a slow start. Tasso Feldman, a recent graduate of the Boston University School of Theatre, is wonderfully understated as the son, though he could use a bit more anger, particularly when he denounces his father as a pervert.

Albee is obviously having fun here with the notions of normalcy and perversion, and testing both liberal and conservative ideas of what is permissible behavior. He is also making manifest the illusions entailed in buying into middle-class values, as he does in nearly all his plays.

It's a body of work that ranks as the finest of any living American playwright's. And this production shows that ''The Goat" can stand alongside his greatest efforts.

Ed Siegel can be reached at siegel@globe.com.

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