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Theater review: 'The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?' at the Chance Theater

September 30, 2010 |  2:00 pm

The goat Joaquin Phoenix has nothing on Edward Albee. Just when you thought you’d sussed out Albee’s famously arcane intentions, you just may find yourself on the receiving end of a cosmic joke.

Or at least that seems to be the case in Albee’s Pulitzer-nominated “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?,” now in a superlative production at Chance Theater in Anaheim Hills. For those who can’t ascertain the subject matter from that leading title, Albee’s 2002 comedy-drama revolves around the star-crossed love affair between a renowned architect — and a barnyard animal.

The premise initially seems wholly risible, like a retread of the Gene Wilder segment from Woody Allen’s “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.” 

Be assured: That naughtiness is just a jumping-off point. Albee, a masterly alchemist fond of wild experimentation, eventually transmutes the gag into a philosophically dense examination of societal mores that is closely akin to Greek tragedy, complete with a bloodily cathartic denouément.

It’s admirable that the aptly named Chance Theater has essayed such a chancy piece at the risk of alienating its patron base. And it’s even more commendable that the crisply professional production is so stellar in every particular, from Bradley Kaye’s stylish set to the uniformly exceptional cast, which includes Jonathon Lamer as the goat-besotted protagonist, Karen Webster as his horrified spouse, Kevin Tobias as their sexually conflicted son and Mike Martin as the dubious best friend who undermines the foundation in this latter-day House of Atreus. In a pitch-perfect staging, director Marya Mazor smoothly shift gears from the ridiculous to the sacrificial, capturing the raw suffering beneath the smirk.

— F. Kathleen Foley

“The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” Chance Theater, 5552 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills.  8 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays.  Ends Oct. 24.  $22-$35.  (714) 777-3033.  Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

Photo: Jonathon Lamer and Mike Martin. Credit: Doug Catiller, True Image Studio.