Love is Strange in The Goat, or who is Sylvia?

By Patrick Hurley

How do we define love? This is the question at the core of Edward Albee’s searing drama The Goat, or who is Sylvia? Which is playing now through November 23, at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center. 

Albee, a master of complex marital drama—Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, anyone?—has written a complex, high-octane, but thoughtful examination on the perplexities of love, and its many unfathomable incarnations. It is part social commentary, part family drama, with shocking moments of revelation and outrageous humor that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and that’s just while reading it. This production of the great master’s play, is worthy and oftentimes wonderful with slick pacing, an intimate space that serves the material rather well, and a pair of wonderful performances.

The story of The Goat, or who is Sylvia? Is one that a synopsis cannot do justice to, and one that would involve far too many spoilers. So let me just say that this is a story about a family in crisis. A major crisis. The kind of crisis that seems impossible to recover from.

At the start of the show, Martin (Paul Witten) and Stevie (Ann Noble), are a picture-perfect, middle-aged, upper-class couple. She is the shopping for dress gloves type, and he is a semi-famous architect who has just turned fifty and has received a prestigious award for his work. The first scene has Martin prepping for an on-camera interview about his award that his best friend Ross (Matt Krikwood) is conducting.  Stevie and Martin have a light, comical chemistry together. The kind of relaxed amusement that suggests years of a content, or even happy marriage. But for some unknown reason, Martin is a bit off. He seems distracted, weighted almost, as if his mind is elsewhere. He acknowledges as much, and he and Stevie have a bit of fun contemplating what the reason for his absent-mindedness might be. Then she goes off shopping without giving it another thought. But there is trouble in paradise. Major trouble.

Martin and Ross have a heart-to-heart in which Martin confesses as to the reason why he’s been so distracted, and it is this confession that changes the course of not only Martin’s evening, but his entire life. What follows is a series of confrontations, confessions, and catastrophic realizations that prove why Mr. Albee is one of the most celebrated voices in the theatre. The subtitle of this play Who is Sylvia? Comes from Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman of Verona, it was a song used to lament and idealize true love. This production uses this double meaning as a means of interpreting love as it may apply differently to each individual. What this play wants to say is that love is love.

This production hits so many right notes, from the wonderful set design by Robert Selander which proved as functional as it did efficient, to the impeccable direction of Ken Sawyer. It takes a well-trained eye to not only fully appreciate Albee’s world, but to delve deep into it and to not fear the awkward, hilarious, awful, painful truth of it all. And it boasts brave, nuanced, and fearless performances from Paul Witten and Ann Noble.

As Martin, Paul Witten has the daunting task of taking on a difficult role.  There are aspects of Martin that could come across as absurd, even insane, but keeping him grounded, Mr. Witten never approaches either of these. There is an ambiguous nature to Martin that allows an actor to interpret as he will, and with Mr. Sawyer’s skillful direction, Mr. Witten goes for a gentle but decisive approach. As Martin, his commitment is staggering, as his refusal to surrender to his own weaknesses. There is a nobility in him and given the circumstances that we come to know about him, it is a remarkable trait to maintain.

As Stevie, Ann Noble is incredible. She commands the stage at every turn, she is fascinating, furiously funny, and deftly ferocious all while maintaining a level of heartbreak that never fully recedes. It is a tour de force, and one that must be seen.

What is especially wonderful about this strange little play, is that it embraces its own strangeness head-on, and challenges the audience to rethink their own ideas. And this production doesn’t shy away from that. Its in-your-face style is on full display. And the small theatre heightens the level of awkwardness an audience can feel watching the events of this play unfold.

There is a beauty in the tragedy of it, however, and it is a beauty that requires the pain of its participants to endure to demonstrate the limitless boundaries one is willing to cross in the name of love.  Because when it comes right down to it, that’s what this awkward, hilariously painful play is really all about. Love. The lengths that we are willing to go to for love. But perhaps more importantly, it’s about the pressure we feel, socially, about what is right and wrong with love.

In the end, this production is a resounding success. A daring, brutally funny, wonderfully uncomfortable examination of love, relationships, and the constraints of both. The idea of love is scrutinized, as are the labels we place upon it. It is the nature of love itself that Albee is exploring. He’s telling us that labels, norms, and standards must not, cannot, and do not always apply.  And he does so in his usual astoundingly brilliant fashion.


Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Ken Sawyer
Presented by the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center at the Los Angeles LGBT Center

DATES: September 19 — November 23
TIMES: Opens Friday 9/19 at 8pm Regular Friday & Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 7pm ADMISSION: $30
TICKET INFO: Online at, or call (323) 860-7300.
LOCATION: Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place (one block east of Highland, just north of Santa Monica Boulevard), in Hollywood. Free onsite parking is available.

**Production Photos by Michael Lamont.


Less is Way More in Cock

By Patrick Hurley

Who says size matters? The Rogue Machine Theatre clearly believes that magical things can happen in the tiniest of spaces. And they prove it once again with Cock, the searing new drama by British playwright Mike Bartlett, which is making its Los Angeles premiere, and is playing now through November 3. Continue reading “Less is Way More in Cock”

Happy Days Are (Not Really) Here To Stay

By Patrick Hurley

No other dramatist has ever been able to take the emptiness of life and make it as fulfilling as Samuel Beckett did. His exploration of a meaningless universe where human beings are left longing to connect, but ultimately succumbing to dreaded silences is on perfect display in the beautifully staged Happy Days, playing through October 12, at The Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena. Continue reading “Happy Days Are (Not Really) Here To Stay”

Women Vs. Girls

By Patrick Hurley


Ever wondered what it would be like if Lena Dunham wrote an updated version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women? Who hasn’t, right? That is what playwright Chiara Atik has done with her Fringe-favorite comedy Women, playing now through October 25 at Theatre Asylum. Presented by Beth Dies, Inc (spoiler alert…?) & Combined Artform, Women is a fast-paced, boisterous mash-up that seems at once a clever idea and a superfluous one.


 From left: Jacquie Walters (Amy), Erika Rankin (Meg), Lauren Flans (Jo),  Brigitte Valdez (Beth). Photographer: Adam Carver.


While the springboard from Little Women to Girls seems less than obvious, there are similarities in the characters that were cleverly drawn. Bringing Alcott’s characters into a twenty-first century mindset, but still keeping the story in the 1860s, works as a statement on feminine identity much like the statements that the show Girls hits upon in every episode.

The story, mostly ripped from the book Little Women, deals with the March sisters. The youngest Amy (Jacquie Walters), wants to be “beautiful” when she grows up. She is an aspiring artist and speaks with an affected British Accent. Beth (Brigitte Valdez) an overly sweet and cheerful girl who only sees a black slate in her own future, and is always coughing for some reason. Meg (Erika Rankin) dreams of being a mother and a wife, and spends most of her time as a maternal figure to her little sisters. And finally Jo (Lauren Flans), is burdened by her expected role in society to marry and settle down, when all she wants to do is become a writer and live life as an adventure. Also, she’s pretty sure she’s a lesbian. Watching these sisters deal with the drama of their lives in the 1860s, but having the feminist awareness of women in the 21st century, don’t call them “little women,” makes for a ton of one-liners, easy allusions, and sometimes hilarious comparisons.

The makings are all there for an episode of the hit HBO show Girls.  Alcott’s book was sort of a precursor to the kind of feminist literature that would ridicule such stories for their lack of creating feminine identity outside of the home, or the role of dutiful daughter, wife, and mother. So this mash-up attempts to create a sort of satirical look at life for women in the late 19th century. However, it is less a satire and more an update, because the dialogue conveys the understanding of the situation, but the story surrenders to the themes of the book, and therefore ends up spoofing it. The conclusion to the play is almost the same as the book, and this is the result of the play’s understanding of the source material. This is meta-theater at its bluntest.  One character even references that for the sake of time and to wrap things up they should just go along with a preposterous plot development.

Most of the humor in the play comes directly from mocking the book. The references are broad enough that even someone who doesn’t know the book will know enough to get the jokes. The repetitive poking at Beth’s mysterious cough, for example, are funny up to a point. Luckily, this show embraces brevity, and so there has no time for anything to get stale or too redundant. Jo’s references about herself being, “one of the guys,” or the way she refers to neighbor Laurie (Clayton Farris) as “bro” becomes a running joke that plays upon the speculation that the literary version of Jo may have indeed been a lesbian.  There have been scholarly essays written about the sexuality of both Jo and Alcott, who claims to have based much of the book on her own childhood and sisters. The Jo of the book is a tomboy, a nonconforming girl who dislikes romance and who rejects convention. Modern interpretations lead one to believe she might have been a lesbian. Ms. Atik uses this and creates her Jo as much more than a tomboy, she thinks of herself as one of the boys.

In the modern theatrical world, there are many, many examples of feminist theatre, most predominantly, perhaps, is Caryl Churchill and her plays Top Girls and Cloud Nine. What makes this play work is that by mocking Little Women, and the traditional and limiting roles that women have played, and by its own awareness of such limitations, this play actually becomes a feminist piece. It’s flipping a cliché on its head that can sometimes resonate a message much louder than one that takes its subject too seriously.

Though not a deep meaningful play about women’s struggles, or sexual identity, or rebelling against social standards—though strangely it includes all of these—this is just a silly little show that will keep you smiling, if not laughing out loud.

All of the sisters are portrayed with appropriate melodramatic flair. As Meg, Erika Rankin is a whiz with her dialogue, she is able to handle her words with lighting speed, as well as her mood swings, which she is able to switch back and forth from in the blink of an eye.

Other standouts of the night include JB Waterman, who plays three roles, but excels as the scene-stealing, never-before-heard-of March brother, Carl. His dopey enthusiasm lights up the stage. Finally, as Jo, Lauren Flans is a perfect embodiment of a strong woman, a woman that perhaps Ms. Alcott wanted to write, but because of her time and circumstances wasn’t able to. She is a confused, and yearning soul who is a nice 1860s counterpart to 2014s Hanna from Girls.

Hardly a feminist odyssey, but kind of making fun of one, this play is a good bit of fun for anyone looking for a few easy laughs, and a couple well-earned ones.

Written by Chiara Atik

Theatre Asylum
6320 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 962-1632

September 5-October 25

For more info


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Seeing Past the Future in Bulrusher

Identity through rebirth. Cleansing. A spiritual journey of self-awareness. A young African-American woman named Bulrusher tells the story of all three in Bulrusher, written by Eisa Davis. Continue reading “Seeing Past the Future in Bulrusher”

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