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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

First-year creates directs dark and intriguing performances

Published: March 28, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia” and first-year Ayelet Schrek’s “Fiction” opened this past Friday, March 21 in the Schwartz Auditorium, sponsored by the Free Play Theatre Cooperative. A bold and unique play, “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia” highlights love, sexuality and bestiality.

“Fiction” preceded “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” and set a chaotic and tragic tone that complemented the plot of “The Goat.” It was set in a restaurant where friends Em (Sarah Duffett ’17) and Kay (Miriam Esther Goldman ’14) meet under mysterious pretenses; Kay is wearing gloves, and the time period is unclear. She slowly reveals that Em slept with Kay’s boyfriend, resulting in his abuse of Kay. Kay eventually retaliated by killing her boyfriend, Em’s lover. Finally, Kay takes off her gloves and reveals her blood-stained hands and a knife, and stabs Em, leaving her to die.

While both actresses skillfully execute their roles, some aspects of the play were flawed. While Em used a prim and proper-sounding English accent, Kay spoke with a normal American accent, which was jarring. Despite this slight confusion, Schreck’s play did an excellent job of establishing the mood of the evening along with the themes of tragedy, death, betrayal and love for “The Goat,” which followed promptly.

In “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” Martin Gray (Yuval Yossefy ’17) is a 50-year-old architect who has just won the prestigious Pritzker Prize and is married to Stevie (Ariel Hopes ’15). They have a gay teenage son, Billy (Connor Wahrman ’17), whose relationship with his father is laced with tension due to Gray’s mostly hidden homophobia. Martin and Stevie are seemingly in love and quite content in modern day urban America, until Martin falls in love with a goat he named Sylvia. When he tells his best friend Ross (Zephry Wright ’17), the friend can’t keep such a secret and sends a letter to Stevie, leading to complete mayhem and despair in the Gray family.

Although the central issue in the play is bestiality, its underlying themes are not quite as abhorrent. In fact, they result in the essential question of how sex and love are interrelated, as well as how these manifest according to sociological expectations and norms. The play serves as an excellent forum for this discussion. Although the bestiality component of the play is rather repugnant, it prompts the audience to ask what constitutes love, what kinds of love are socially acceptable and if there is a right or wrong way to express this love.

Schrek asks, “Why is having sex with an animal wrong, why do we feel so grossed out by it? To me, it is entirely an issue of consent. An animal cannot give consent, therefore sex with an animal is rape.” It also prompts the audience to think about loving a soul versus sexual love. In the program, Schrek writes that “‘The Goat’ explores the complexity of the natures of and interplay between love and sexuality.”

The most memorable moments of the play were the most climactic, which produced these essential questions to the comprehension of the play. An unforgettable scene of the play is when, during Stevie’s confrontation with Martin, Stevie becomes so upset she starts smashing and overturning almost every object in the living room. Hopes does a phenomenal job of playing a distraught, betrayed and irate lover, which brings clarity to Martin, allowing him to articulate the devastating fact that he loves Sylvia, an animal, in the same way and extent as he does his wife of many years.

Another scene that parallels this confession of “wrong” love is when Martin, in a state of stress, curses at his son Billy, illustrating how though Martin accepts his own unaccepted love of an animal, he has trouble accepting his son’s homosexuality. All of the actors did an absolutely phenomenal job representing the tension pulling at each family member. Hopes and Yossefy somehow concocted a chemistry that only long-married couples seem to generate, of a couple deeply in love yet also still best friends—a great triumph. Wahrman, attempting to act as a mediator between his parents during their massive fight, portrayed an aura of both compassion and composure, but also demonstrated his own tumultuous feelings resulting from his sexual orientation and his father’s struggle with it. Wright did not appear as frequently as the other actors, but played both a loving and concerned friend who, despite his disgust of Martin’s new love, stayed loyal to both Stevie and Martin. The character’s desperation to help his friends was clear through Wright’s acting.

The plays were set on the floor of Schwartz Auditorium in front of the stage rather than on it, and the audience sat in chairs about 10 feet away, giving the performance a more intimate feeling. The set looked incredibly professional, consisting of a simple table and chairs during “Fiction” and various living room furniture during “The Goat.” The stage crew and actors were absolutely phenomenal technically, seamlessly rearranging the set in between plays and playing sound effects exactly on cue. Although the overall setup of the play was superb, the venue still felt awkward due to the fact that there was a relatively small audience. It might have felt less awkward having the play on the stage, but executing the play right in front of the audience gave it more of a cozy ambiance.

The Free Play Theatre Cooperative is an independent experimental theater company that is “devoted to producing experimental and innovative works focused on examining issues we face as a human race, such as social injustice, war, and coexistence” and aims to “create a dialogue within the Brandeis community about such issues, to help cultivate diversity and a better understanding of ourselves and the people around us.”

Schrek and her cast and crew certainly accomplished this goal with sophistication, skill and depth in “Fiction” and “The Goat or Who is Sylvia?”