Review: The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? (Leroy Street Theatre)

Leroy Street Theatre presents a taboo and comedic look at family dysfunction in Toronto

The last time I had walked into Unit 102 Theatre, the set was the inside of a barn, covered in dust and bales of hay. Not a speck of dust was in sight when I walked back into Unit 102 to see Leroy Street Theatre’s The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? The barn was flipped into an impeccable living room.

The furniture and precise decoration gave off the impression that the homeowners were desperate to be featured in an interior design magazine. The set looked like it had been ripped out of the centre of Style at Home with minor details of family life, like a framed photo and a work table with work still in progress. I felt like I was sitting in the midst of perfectionists. After the show, I realized that Leroy Street Theatre must be full of perfectionists too, because I was blown away by the show.

Leroy Street Theatre presents The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? directed by Chris Betecher, along with assistant director Anne van Leeuwen. The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? is a play written by Edward Albee, first performed in 2002. The play was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2003. Albee is an American playwright, who is especially known for the play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), which was adapted into a critically acclaimed film starting Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Much like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? involves a married couple who are a perfect match when it comes to humour, love, and cruelty.

The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? is about Martin, a successful architect, and his wife Stevie. They appear to have a wonderful marriage, rooted in respect and loyalty. After botching an interview with his friend Ross, Martin confesses that his loyalty to Stevie is currently being tested. Martin admits to falling in love with Sylvia, who just so happens to be a goat. Ross informs Stevie of the unexpected news, and so the family must confront the uncomfortable reality head-on.

The tidy set was a perfect metaphor to Martin and Stevie’s marriage. As the play begins, the set designed by Bretecher and painted by Pascal Labillois is immaculate. When Martin’s secret is revealed, the living room loses its neatness. Chairs are upturned. Objects are thrown to the floor. The visible comforts of home are disrupted, while the homeowner’s emotional realities are disrupted. I loved the reflection of the set with the feeling of “home”. With each destruction, it confirmed to me that something more than physical was deeply broken.

The main couple, Martin played by Paul Rivers and Stevie played by Shauna Black, were fantastic to watch. Besides the absurd circumstances, I felt like they acted as a real couple who had built a life together. Their banter felt intimate. Their secrets carried weight. Their grief was raw. They were excellent together. I loved every moment they played off each other.

Billy, played by Stephen Macdonald, was the teenage son who serves as a witness to the disruption parents’ happy union. Billy was also described as a confused young man, because he identified as homosexual.  His homosexuality serves almost a dark comedic purpose, since his father may not fully approve of his attraction to men, but he expects understanding for his affections for Sylvia. Stephen Macdonald does a great job as an awkward teenager who is wrestling with the need to be accepted/comforted by his parents, along with the need to prove that he’s more than a child.

Finally, Joel Fishbane played Martin’s childhood friend Ross, who I assumed was the stand-in for the audience . He was the puppet for our shock and confusion. Fishbane looked as if he was on the verge of screaming “What is going on?” for most of his stage time. I was thinking the same thing.

This is one of the strangest plays I have ever seen.  Although the subject matter is unexpected, and at times incredibly uncomfortable, I thought the show was great. The actors were fantastic. The dialogue is witty and sharp.  And in a twisted way, The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? was really funny. If you want to laugh at all things deemed taboo, see this show.

  • The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia? is playing until June 11, 2016 at Unit 102 Theatre (376 Dufferin Street).
  • Showtimes are at 8:00pm Tuesdays to Saturdays.
  • Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online. Unfortunately, no late comers will be admitted.

Photo of Paul Rivers and Stephen Macdonald by Kendra Spanton