My wife and I have a longstanding congenial argument about whether or not bestiality jokes are funny. I wish she would have come with me to see The Liminal Playhouse’s current production of Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?”
It wouldn’t have necessarily ended our argument, but it would have added several layers to the discussion.
“The Goat” is a weird play. It’s pretty easy to fit it into the thematic and tonal milieu of Albee, whose career spanned 49 years, from 1959 until 2007.
At the same time, its central premise is not for the easily offended, and as Tony Prince, Liminal’s artistic director, points out in his note in the program, it has never been produced in Louisville.
The central conceit of “The Goat” also is the big twist, and it’s revealed halfway through the first scene.
If you’d like to go see the show without being handed the punchline to the play’s big joke, then suffice it to say that Liminal’s production is worth watching, with assured performances from the ensemble and the quality of set, sound, light and costume we’ve come to expect from the company.
Well, it’s worth watching if one comes down on my side of the argument — to wit, if you think bestiality jokes are funny, then this one’s for you.
Everyone who wants to remain spoiler-free gone? Last chance? Alright then …
This play is about a man who falls in love with and copulates with the titular barnyard denizen. The action jumps back and forth constantly from slapstick surreality to a seemingly straight-faced exploration of what love is — and can be.
Prince, the director of the majority of Liminal’s productions, steps out of the captain’s chair for the second time this season, allowing frequent Liminal actor Neil Brewer to step in and guide “The Goat.”
Prince, in turn, takes on the role of Martin, our intrepid animal lover.
Brewer shows signs of skill but also falls prey to the tendency that occasionally stops his performances on stage from reaching their apotheosis.
He has a tendency to go big early and stay there a bit too long. He has led the ensemble down the same path.
It leaves the middle of the play floundering a little, as the initial punch of the central premise already has worn off, but the thematic deepening of the last third of the play hasn’t kicked in.
But in the final scene, Brewer successfully steers the ship toward a satisfying ending. He also keeps the pace brisk, a skill more Louisville-based directors should learn. Running a fast hour and a half, the sins of “The Goat” are easily forgiven.
It’s also pretty easy to lay the blame for the muddy middle act on Albee, despite the fact that he is generally one of the sacred cows — or should I say holy goats — of 20th-century drama. The literal punchline to many of the jokes is a repeat, i.e. the moment when an otherwise successful reasonable man has his wife, child or best friend shout some form of “you f*%k goats” at him.
Prince delivers an admirable performance, throwing himself into the role. His sincerity in moments expressing his love for his quadrupedal paramour is key to the comedy and tragedy of the piece. Martin is one of those roles that requires a nearly herculean effort from the performer, with Prince on stage for every single scene.
Almost like a marathon, it’s impressive just to see an actor finish without letting his energy and focus drop, which Prince accomplishes. And it’s always nice to see a director step back on the boards and show us he’s got the goods.
And Prince is ably supported by the rest of the cast.
Susan Linville is his flabbergasted wife, angry beyond the point of crying, grappling both with her husband’s infidelity and the absurdity of the situation. Linville is most frequently tasked with the moments in the play that jump from straight face to surreal. She get’s her share of the laughs, and her anger is strong and persuasive.
Joey Arena has wisely modulated down a few steps from the rest of the cast. It makes his moments on stage, especially near the end of the play, carry an added weight.
Matt Street appears as Martin’s teenage son Billy. Street seems to have solely appeared in roles across the river, performing at his alma mater Indiana University Southeast, Theatre Works of Southern Indiana, and Derby Dinner Playhouse.
He gives Billy the anger and hits the sardonic button for many of his punch lines. Here’s to hoping he visits this side of the Ohio more often in the future.
“The Goat” offers food for thought, laughs and a look at a seldom produced work from one of the defining geniuses of 20th-century American theater.
If you can get past the goat loving, that is.
“The Goat” continues through Sunday, June 9, at the Henry Clay Theatre, 604 S. Third St. Tickets are $20.