You can bank on the Theatre Guild to take on the most challenging of plays and, equally, you can rely on them to do them justice. This confrontational piece of tragi-comic theatre by Edward Albee is a challenge the company has taken up with gusto.
The premise is extraordinary. Martin, a highly successful American architect with a long and loving relationship with his wife and their gay son, suddenly develops an emotional and physical extra-marital love affair with Sylvia, a goat. This transgresses the ultimate social taboo and it has the predictably destructive impact on them all.
The central two characters, Martin and Stevie, are wonderfully brought to life by Gary George and Rachel Burfield. While they successfully navigated the somewhat stilted dialogue of the first section of the play, they soared later when Stevie found out about Martin’s transgression, thanks to an explanatory letter written by Martin’s best friend, Ross, creditably played by Peter Davies.
Despite Martin’s humiliation and despair, George retained his credibility even when he was lamely reverting to correcting others’ grammar or making amusing asides during the most torrid attacks. Importantly, he succeeded in convincing us that he even believed himself as he defended his outrageous new relationship as being both beautiful and consensual.
Burfield’s performance was stunning. She credibly ranged through the emotions from playful familiarity to disgust, horror and raging, screaming, plate-throwing anger. Through her, we saw the utterly disastrous impact of Martin’s romantic dalliance. Her most shocking and bloody scene was at the end where she succeeded in outdoing even what was already there before us.
As their son, Billy, Benjamin Quirk made the most of his scenes, representing to a degree, along with Ross, society’s shock at the dreadful predicament his father had dragged them into.
Matt Houston’s direction was subtle when needed and brutally coarse when the time came. The set was simple and sparse, well-suited to the action and raw emotions on display.
This play pushes the limits of our social tolerance, even in this anything-goes age. It is not an easy or comfortable undertaking. In tackling it, the company succeeded admirably.