THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA Reviewed by Stephen Radosh


THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA?
Reviewed by Stephen Radosh
 
Can a theatre set a world’s record twice in one season?  Well, that’s what CV Rep has done this year, metaphorically at least. Their production of VENUS IN FUR was, in my opinion, a new high mark for theatre in the Coachella Valley.  But now, with THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA?, they have raised the bar to all new heights with this stellar production of Edward Albee’s 2002 disturbing and thought provoking play.
Continuing the season’s theme of Romance, Real or Imagined, THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? tells the story of a well-off and seemingly happy family and what happens to them when a deeply guarded secret becomes a secret no more. 
The troubles begin when Martin Gray (Sean Smith) lets family friend Ross Tuttle (Arthur Hanket) in on a closely guarded secret; he is having an affair……with a goat named Sylvia.  Shocked beyond belief, Ross sends a letter to Martin’s wife Stevie (Sharon Sharth) letting her know what her husband is doing.  She confronts Martin with the letter and demands an explanation. No matter what he says, her reactions are nothing shy of explosive.  Their son, Billy (Ian M. White), soon gets pulled into the fray as all hell breaks loose.  This confrontation makes those of VIRGINIA WOOLF’s George and Martha look like romantic foreplay.  As the wounds get more serious, deep set issues come spewing forth.  I don’t want to need a spoiler alert here so I will just say that it all believably leads to what is one of the most shocking and disturbing final moments of a play ever written.  
Every element of this production is flawless.  Jimmy Cuomo’s set instantly conveys the financial status of its inhabitants with its clean lines reminiscent of mid-century modern. Julie Onken’s costumes also look like the exact sort of clothing that these characters would wear; modern yet classic in a way you would expect to find in the posh weekend retreats of the well-to-do creative sets. The lighting by Moira Wilkie Whitaker, is beautifully designed as it subtly shifts to underscore the continually intensifying actions and emotions onstage.   
But it is the superb work by the 4 cast members under Joanne Gordon’s brisk, tight and flawless direction that makes me compelled to try and get anyone who loves good theatre to stop what they’re doing and get a ticket now! 
As Ross Tuttle, the family friend facing an enormous moral dilemma, Arthur Hanket skillfully conveys the inner turmoil he is going through before making the decision which propels the rest of the play towards its inevitable conclusion.
Ian M. White gives an honest and touching performance as Billy, the young, sensitive, intelligent and gay son trying to navigate the growing storm around him.
Sean Smith as Martin Gray, the man deeply in love with his wife and Sylvia, gives a remarkable performance.  As the play goes along, he clearly shows a man who transitions through a variety of emotions.  At times he seems confused as to why everyone is upset at his simple act of loving another, even if that object of love is a goat.  At other times he shows the pain he is suffering from the lack of compassion and the hurtful and mocking words being directed at him.  Then there is the anger at being so misunderstood and perhaps even feeling betrayed by those he thought loved him.
As Stevie Gray, Sharon Sharth has the showiest role and makes absolutely the most out of it.  Every moment, whether cracking a joke, and yes there is a surprising amount of laughs in the play, expressing shock or unleashing anger caused by her feelings of betrayal and disgust, is an honest and believable one.  Her pain becomes our pain as she tries so desperately to comprehend the why of her husband’s actions. 
With the strength of such a good play and the masterful direction supplied by Joanne Gordon, these four actors remind us of what an amazing experience can be had at the theatre and why, despite what so many have said over the years, the theatre is very much alive and doing very well.  Don’t believe me?  Then go see THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? and you will.
This production also really makes me excited at what the future holds in store for CVRep when the move into their new home next winter at the site of the old Imax theatre in Cathedral City.  They do such amazing work now in their small and somewhat restrictive space that I can only imagined what the luxury of their new home will allow!  
CVRep’s production of Edward Albee’s THE GOAT, OR WHO IS SYLVIA? plays through April 1, 2018 at The Atrium, 69-930 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. For more information or to order tickets go online at www.cvrep.org/tickets/.