The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?: The unexpected play(fulness)

For some reason (let’s call it 20-something-too-little-sleep-and-too-much-wine, and not what it is, which is my terrible memory) but I didn’t remember Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? was a play, until this weary-reader delighted in finding a slim volume on the self and not another (as was feared) 500 page tome (no doubt each page of the 500 page novels I’ve made my way through have been worth it, but I’m just saying, at this point in 10-10-12 I’m taking my slim volumes where I can get ‘em).

Whatever the other outcomes of this reading project might be, I do hope I continue to read more plays, as my heretofore monogomous-with-occasional-cheating relationship with fiction may be (may have been) keeping me from some gems.

The Goat is probably meant to be absurd. If I knew more about drama I’d be able to tell you about the school it belongs to, the history it’s drawing on, the playwrights its responding to, but I have no idea. What I do know is that the play follows Martin and Stevie’s relationship when Stevie discovers that Martin, her husband of 30 odd years, has started to have an affair with a goat – Sylvia – and that he loves Sylvia just as much as he loves her. There’s some other plot details that likely enhance or complicate the thematic questions – things like their son, Billie, and his apparent homosexuality; or, Stevie’s penchant for breaking every material object the two own – but I gave my full attention to the goat-loving, and so have little to say about other, likely no less punchy, symbolic events. 

I have to say that The Goat gets at the heart of (what I understand to be) the confusion for both people in any once-monogmous-no-longer relationship: for Martin, the confusion of how it might be possible to love two souls at the same time with equal vigour and devotion; for Stevie, how her partner could equate their love with anyone (anything) else, how he could degrade its singularity. That the play uses a goat to explore this confusion and sadness only exemplifies the already inherent absurdity of adultery – the impossible to square realization that while love is not finite and it might be given in excess to more than one person, it is nevertheless accepted by individuals who might feel entitled to its exclusive privilege. What difference a goat or another woman? Who is Sylvia, really, but a placeholder for every diversion that alerts us to the precariousness of monogomous devotion? The necessity to consider, if not to reconcile, our investment in singular attachments with boundless love?

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Filed under 100 Books of 2011

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