Let me tell you a tragic story about a kid I knew in middle school. He was different from the rest of the kids: painfully unattractive with mangled teeth and an ugly speech impediment. One afternoon, a group of barely pubescent boys surrounded him on the playground and called him "queer" and "faggot" and other terrible things. They shoved him and spit on him and tried to provoke him into a fight. But he wouldn't defend himself. "I'm not a faggot," he cried out at last. He told the assembled ruffians that he regularly had sex with a female goat, and as innocently as you please, he described the lovemaking. He was proud of his masculine conquests and honestly thought his story would give him some cred as "one of the guys." He didn't get beat up at least. Nobody wanted to touch him, and a few years later he hanged himself in his closet. Maybe this is why I'm not terribly shocked by playwright Edward Albee's dirty literary joke The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?, which is currently running at Circuit Playhouse. Maybe that's why I only experience it as a cruel, if brilliant, joke on the audience and on modern theater.
Martin (played by an imminently likable Jonathon Lamer) is a 50-year-old architect at the peak of his career. He's been honored with prestigious awards and tapped to plan a utopian city in the Midwest. After 20 years of marriage, he's still crazy in love with his wife, and although he's still reeling a bit from his 17-year-old son's "coming out," his life seems perfect and enviable. One problem: He's truly, madly, and deeply in love with a big-eyed goat. When his bestial secret is revealed, things get ugly and things get broken. Woe to the theatergoer who sits in the first two rows as shards of Martin's gorgeous life begin to fly -- quite literally -- off the stage.
There's a secret punch line to The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?. The play is cleverly subtitled "Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy," and "tragedy" is derived from a Greek term meaning goat song. Albee's play, though fully contemporary, is cookie-cutter Greek in the spirit of Euripides. You could easily perform it by substituting the word "sister" for goat and "incest" for bestiality, but to do so would make the play trite, unfunny, and entirely unwatchable. Albee's larger point exists outside the plot: Tragedy is constructed around actions that "can't be ignored," and in this day and age, it takes a good goat-diddling to get our attention. For all the blood and the shouting, The Goat isn't so much a tragedy as it is a dark and bitter satire on the state of modern tragedy and on a culture where the only true crime is being caught.
Sara Morsey, who last appeared in Memphis in Playhouse on the Square's award-winning production of Wit, is sassy, strong, and attractive as Martin's wife Stevie. Even in her rage, she charms with her detached wordplay. Her revenge, however, is as horrible and freakishly bizarre as it is obvious and inevitable. Barclay Roberts is solid as Ross, the family confidant who betrays his old friend Martin in a fit of self-righteous outrage, and Jordan Nichols, taking a break from his studies at NYU, is effective in the chorus-like role of Billy, a young man who thought he knew who he was until the day he finally met his real parents.
Circuit's production is top-notch until it devolves into a screaming and whining match somewhere around the middle of the play, subverting a lot of humor and making Albee's redundancies that much more redundant. After all, a person can only hear "You're fucking a goat" shouted so many times before it loses its impact. The good news is that the excellent cast pulls things back together in the play's final minutes, making The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? the most intense and unforgettable production to appear on a local stage since Lanford Wilson's Book of Days.
Through July 9th
Everything Is Beautiful
Kay Cole, the actor and dancer who created the role of Maggie in A Chorus Line, almost never sings in public. When she does, it's not likely that she'll revive "At the Ballet," her signature song. "I discovered I don't have the same need to perform," Cole says. Since turning her attention to directing and choreography, she has performed only rarely and for what she describes as special occasions.
Cole teamed with Memphis pianist and composer David Troy Francis to mount Bark!, a musical about dogs that has been running for 10 months in Los Angeles and which will open in Chicago and New York later this year. Cole and Francis will be in Memphis for a workshop with teachers in the Memphis City Schools system.
Cole will teach dance master classes at Theatre Memphis on Saturday, June 18th, and Cole and Francis will perform together at Bartlett United Methodist Church on Sunday, June 19th.
"I want everybody to experience this wonderful woman," Francis says. Cole says she'll break her rules for the occasion and break out songs she hasn't done in years, including selections from A Chorus Line.
For more information on Kay Cole's master classes, call 682-8601.