26 February 2006

Got My Goat

I saw the Goat last spring at the American Conservatory Theater and I have to say I was disappointed in both the performance and the play. I think it's a great idea that ended up being a fairly standard marriage-falling-apart-in-middle-age drama. It could have been more satiric/satyric and tragic. When you're a happily married and successful man who suddenly starts having not just sex but a love affair with a goat, for six months, then you've pretty much moved to a different place. And I was hoping the Goatfucker would respond to people from that place. Instead he just moped and anguished in a fairly passive way. And he was the performer I liked most. But I wanted him to defend Sylvia (the goat), and his love for her, to his wife, his son, and his friend, but opportunity after opportunity passed by and he didn't respond to them. His being chosen to design and build The City of Tomorrow in the wheatfields of Kansas (who's sponsoring this, by the way?) is such an absurdly out-of-date notion that I can only assume this was meant to be part of a commentary on mankind's relationship to nature, but it wasn't really followed up. While talking about looking for a farmhouse he could so easily have had a few lines about the need to get away from humanity, sort of put the whole goat thing in a different context. He doesn't make the obvious point that we are animals also. Sex is an animal act. But his feelings for Sylvia raise it above a merely animal act -- feelings that apparently his friend doesn't have for the women he has affairs with. The whole "youngest architect to win the Pritzker" thing annoyed me. Yes, he needs to have a good life so you can see that he's destroying something worth keeping, but this absurd inflation is I guess the contemporary equivalent of the old theory that tragedy only happens to nobility. There's a fleeting reference in the beginning to the Eumenides, but any classical echoes are not really followed up in the play, and that was a rich area that could have been referenced. There's a whole murky line between animal, human, and supernatural that could have been explored (as it was in Beloved, which I had recently re-read). (For all the sometimes strained and tedious wordplay, no one makes the obvious references to pussies, or cocks, or bushes, or other such nature references.) We just get the wife, son, and friend going on about how awful it is and how awful they feel and the GF'er looks guilty and tries to explain that he's in love. It's the same play that could have been written if his love object had been a girl rather than a goat. I kept wondering if his friend is meant to be as fatuous and vulgar as he was in this performance. I found it hard to believe he was a 50-year-old man. You'd think by then he'd have a more nuanced view of adultery, but instead when the GF'er starts to confess he reacts like an adolescent, wanting the details, especially about the girl's body. Then he shows up again at the end and the GF'er tells him to leave but he doesn't. Um, punch him? Threaten him? Make him leave? Better yet, ask why someone with at least one failed marriage and several adulteries (with the resultant pain to numbers of women) is condemning him, who is only hurting one woman. Ask why it was OK if he was cheating on his wife with another woman, but not with another animal. The son was just awful, but I think it's an unplayable role. Not for one minute did I believe (based on the lines) that this was a 17-year-old boy. The parents veer between telling him to go play with mud pies and to go cruise the public toilets, both ridiculously insulting things to say to your own teenage son that are just passed off as nothing. The whole thing at the end where he kisses the father felt really arbitrary to me -- I don't know if a better actor or better directing could have pulled it off, but to me it felt artificial and tacked on to make a point about pervasive and ambiguous sexuality. (And until I re-read this I completely forgot about it, which is odd for something that's supposed to be sort of a -- I shouldn't say climax. . . .)I couldn't believe the son kept demanding his father tell him the truth and threatening him if he hurt the mother -- maybe I'm too Latin, but you just don't talk to your father that way. And I couldn't believe the father took it. The whole relationship felt false. I know Albee made the son gay to avoid the whole "this is really a metaphor for homosexuality" interpretation that often gets foisted on his plays, so it was important that the son and to a lesser degree the parents be OK with his sexuality, but you'd think the father would have made the point to him that while he may have crossed a border by loving a goat, in the eyes of most people his son also crossed a line by loving men -- he's just pushing the border farther. There's no dialogue, no argument, no ideas. Instead the son would prance in every ten minutes, do that fingers to the mouth gesture that has apparently replaced the flapping limp wrist as the international "I am a gayboy" symbol, and say something that no 17-year-old would ever say. The actor also looked about 30. The wife. . . . that character is described in ACT's ads as "brilliant," but I have no idea why. I don't even know what she does. (Why not make her a classicist and bring up that theme that way?) For most of the play, all we see of her is her anger. But who cares? We don't know her. She spends most of the play breaking things. There's the opening where the two trade the sort of strained banter that is the stage shorthand for "good middle-aged marriage." That whole thing (his inability to remember) goes on way too long, and then gets dropped. The wife's reaction was also fairly one note, and goes on way, way too long. Her breaking stuff -- after a while, it just becomes shtick. It's too obviously symbolic and "theatrical" in the way things sometimes are in life, but the GF'er never calls her on it. It's as if she's been waiting 20 years for the chance to play the betrayed wife and smash crockery (by the way, the set was generally good except for the painting she ends up destroying, which apparently this couple picked up from the local Marriott -- people like that would never have a painting like that on their walls. And why not make it a painting of a farm? or one of those Dutch pictures of livestock that are so beautiful?). At her curtain call some audience members jumped to their feet and I know why but I thought she was awful. You were conscious the whole time that she was aware she was playing her big scenes. And that could have worked if the playwright had been aware of it and made it part of the exchange. But as soon as she starts smashing things I pretty much saw how this whole thing was going to end, though I thought she'd have the wit or gumption to make goat stew and serve it to her husband. (And I'm wondering -- so did he buy the farm? So he owned the goat? If so, how did he feel about owning the creature he loved? Or was he just sneaking up to this farmer's for a quickie? How did the wife know which goat is was? No farmer/caretaker objected to her shooting his animal? She drove into the city covered with blood and no one stopped her? I wouldn't have had these questions if I'd been more engaged in the play.) The only one I ended up feeling sorry for was the goat, and to a certain extent the Goatfucker. What a letdown. I was expecting so much more. I walked out thinking, so he's fucking a goat -- big deal! It's better than dating a smoker.

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