Saturday, June 4, 2011

Get your 'Goat' at the Actors Studio

It's a tough production to talk about, and pretty intimidating — intellectually, emotionally, to sit through, let alone to talk about. Go ahead, call your Mom or, even better yet, drop in for a visit (you really should visit your mother, regardless) and try explaining it to her: Well, Mom, it's about a successful guy, an architect, a family man who loves his family and who, um, falls in love with someone who isn't his wife, who isn't even his species. Who is, well, a goat. Yes, a real goat — fur and all, bleating like Stevie Nicks. Well, not quite that bad, but you get the idea. And we're not talking about the way you love your little kitty cat either. We're talking tripping the lights fantastic, full-on romantic love, the kind of affair that will land you in jail in pretty much every place on earth — in addition to, at least in theory, result in the ugliest grandchildren conceived. And, assuming she doesn't slap your face or clutch her chest and keel over, she might ask what "this abomination" is called. That would be "The Goat, or Who is Silvia?" And the "pornographer" responsible for it? Well, Edward Albee wrote the play. You know, the guy who wrote another play whose name ends with a question mark,  "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe?" And before you say another word: Yeah, yeah. The one with "that hussy," the one who abandoned that delightful Eddie Fisher and threw herself at the Englishman. They're staging it next week at the Actors Studio. And, thing is, if you get past the initial inappropriateness, unpleasantness of the subject matter, you've got the rest of the show to deal with as you sit, increasingly numb, but riveted, as you watch what was once a happy family go up in flames. 

No, Albee doesn't make it easy for audiences. It's a beast of a play, a collision of tragedy and comedy, where tolerance and intelligence bump ugly against something true, something primal — our barely concealed animal nature. It's about tolerance, revenge. It's about what love is, or what we think it is. It's about who gets to decide. But he doesn't make it easy. He just drops it in your lap, saying, it's your problem now, you deal with it. Stripped to the core, it's about a family in crisis. The truth comes out, inadvertently. Or maybe not. Maybe he just needs to let it out. He tries to explain, she tries to understand, it's just a mess. It's about so-called society norms. It not only collides with limits, outrageously so, but bowling them over to make its point.

 "This play tunnels into our subconscious, extracting the questions we don’t want to ask, much less answer, about ourselves and takes us on a journey we may never have imagined, but whose characters are strikingly familiar," says Actors Studio founder Marc Clopton. The play has "all the dimension of classical tragedy with the intimacy of a modern family drama. Albee challenges us to respond with compassion to the strange things that befall this family."

It's also a play with "the strangest prop list" director Leslie Pasternack has ever seen, which has taken her "to places I never thought I'd go into." Which sounds, um, very interesting and possibly prurient so, um, do tell ... please?  "No, can't say,"  she says. Can't say or won't say? Not that she wants to get your goat, but there are "a lot of things" she can't talk about without giving it away. Not even whether a goat, an actual physical bleating goat will be in the show? "Yeah, like that," she says. But she can say, and will say, that Sylvia, and that would be the home-wrecking goat in question, "is a constant presence," being, of course, a total tease. And she will say that, strange and disorienting as the conceit may be, the work is "as familiar as a Greek tragedy."

The current production will be her directorial debut in Newburyport — if you don't count "Lifting Rocks," a Howard Rosenfeld short she directed at this year's New Works Festival — and a play she describes as "Godot" meets "All My Sons." That's where Port actors Steve Faria and Pam Battin-Sacks tapped her to lead the production of "The Goat," which was all but ready to begin rehearsals. The initial early-spring dates had to be pushed back because Pasternack was about to stage "The Clean Room," a one-woman solo masked performance in two parts, at the Actors Studio.

Pasternack, who holds a doctorate in theater history from the University of Texas and degree from the Dell’Arte School of Physical Theatre and just finished a four-year stint at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pa., is  no stranger to controverial plays, directing "Corpus Christi," the Terrence McNally play that depicts Jesus and the Apostles as gay men living in modern-day Texas, with Judas betraying Jesus not because it was his fate, or, if you buy the whole "Jesus Christ Superstar" thing, that he had abandoned his political ideals, but because he was jealous, for the Voices from the Margins series at Northeastern University, where she taught. She also directed "Etta Jenks," where Tinseltown dreams end up porn nightmares, and "Truth or Love," a play that focuses on lesbian trysts in a mosque, of all places, also at Northeastern. Even Brighina, the cat-like character from the first act of “Clean Room” has a bit of an edge — and a bit of the freak — in her, too, with a history of a chocolate (and penis) jones, two ingredients that take her mind off migraine headaches.

"It's a real actors' play," says Pasternack. " There's no flash. no dazzle, no pyrotechnics. They're on stage stuck together, they go at each other. Albee just dumps it in our laps and we have to figure out what we are going to do with this thing. "There's no easy way out."

The production will features performanes by Steve Faria, Pam Battin-Sacks, Charles Van Eman and Joe Berardi.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Actors Studio will stage Edward Albee’s "The Goat, or  Who is Sylvia?" June 10-26 at the Actors Studio. Leslie Pasternack directs. Steve Faria, Pam Battin-Sacks, Charlie Van Eman and Joe Berardi star. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18, or $15 for students and seniors. The show contains strong adult themes. The Actors Studio is located at 50 Water Street, Mill #1, Suite #5. That's the Tannery. For more information, call 978-465-1229 or log onto

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