Even audiences accustomed to "edgy" theater might not be prepared for what happens on the stage of Balagula Theatre's latest production, The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
Edward Albee's Tony Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-nominated play from 2002 does not just court the edge of controversial, deeply divisive themes. It shoves the audience all the way over into an abyss of shock and discomfort while delighting in the shrieks of the fall and the crunch of bones crashing at the bottom.
It's seriously intense — and funny and smart and way, way out there.
Directed by Bo List, The Goat is both a love story and a tragedy laced together with quick-witted dialogue and the kind of humor you're not sure it's OK to laugh at.
But laugh you must, because, like the show's two-timed wife Stevie (Melissa Wilkeson), absurd laughter of disbelief is the only way to process the tale's severity.
An adulterous husband is hardly controversial in this modern setting, but the subject of Stevie's husband's affair is not your conventional mistress.
She's a goat.
Adam Luckey plays the husband, Martin, a celebrated architect standing on the precipice of his greatest career achievements. Then he jeopardizes his perfectly happy marriage and career by falling in love with — and having sexual relations with — a goat he calls Sylvia.
Part of the play's shock value is that Martin's affair is not some off-color joke about Scottish sheep farmers. He genuinely and shamelessly believes he is in love with Sylvia and that the feeling is mutual, a conviction Luckey plays with agonizing believability.
Which is more disturbing, that Martin has been violating an innocent animal without its consent? That he claims to love a goat? That he believes it? That you might actually start to believe him?
No show has ever made me more aware of the division between my role as critic and my ordinary humanness, which usually are in agreement.
As an arts reviewer, I am impressed by Albee's sheer nerve and audacity for tackling this subject. He is not lobbying for the political acceptance of man-goat love, but is using one of the most extreme social taboos as an emotionally jarring starting point for discussion about the limits and mysteries of love.
But as an ordinary human being with 10 years of watching Law and Order: SVU under my belt, I was ready to metaphorically call the D.A.
Albee likely intended this schism of extreme reactions, and that is effectively reflected in List's direction and the ensemble's powerful performances.
Wilkeson is the glue that holds the audience's sanity together in her riveting portrayal of Stevie. As we watch her lose her mind in a blazing 45-minute row with her barnyard philandering husband, we are able to endure a gauntlet of emotions, including revulsion, disbelief, horror, bizarre sympathy and a borderline inappropriate appreciation for good grammar and well-played witticisms.
A courageous and well-wrought, if wildly unusual production, The Goat forces the audience to uncomfortably examine the intersection between social taboos and the mysterious terrain of love.
'The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?'
What: Balagula Theatre's production of Edward Albee's Tony Award-winning play.
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 11-13, 17-20.
Where: Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade
Tickets: $18 adults, $12 students; call (859) 259-2754 or go to Balagula.com.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.