In my current screening of plays for a potential spring production I recently re-read Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? What a fantastic play. Having always been a fan of Albee, I never cease to be amazed at his particular tone, clarity, and uncompromising perspective.
In general, I am a sucker for fiction that takes extraordinary situations and deals with them very realistically and rationally. This is one of the reasons I so appreciated the move Unbreakable. To take the notion of superhero-hood and couch it in such ordinary characters was a sort of fantastical drama that appealed to me. In the same way, Edward Albee’s play addresses the peculiar situation of a very prominent and respected man, who happens to fall in love with a goat. The events of the play concern his sharing this information with a friend, and how the unfolding of it unravels his family.
Now, with such am absurd premise, there is great temptation to devolve into baser comedy, but of course, Albee wouldn’t deign to cheapen his characters with gag humor. While the script is very funny, it is not base. It is the tense humor of very serious and rational people trying to comprehend and process their very irrational situation.
It is not that Martin (the protagonist; or perhaps his wife is the protagonist, it’s hard to be sure) is lustily engaging in rampant bestiality. Instead, he feels he has found a kindred soul in the goat, and what draws him in isn’t lust, but pure and unadulterated love, the same sort of love he feels for his wife. The issue that the play seeks to grapple with, quite explicitly in some of the later conversations, is the difference between sexual and non-sexual love, or perhaps the lack of difference. Albee almost seems to suggest that love, at its truest, is regardless of form, and it is the circumstances of our experience that circumscribe the limits of our relationships. Martin, in a moment of bucolic bliss, finds himself forgetting those circumstances and the play concerns the unfolding aftermath of society types who have stepped outside of the bounds of polite society.