The Goat Background

The Goat Background

In 2002, one of the most influential dramatists of the second half of the 20th century returned with great controversy to the Broadway stage. The playwright was Edward Albee—writer of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?—and the play was titled The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Sylvia turns out to be the goat of the title and not in an entirely symbolic way. In addition to containing elements of the “sacrificial lamb” from the mythic estate, Sylvia is also truly a goat fresh off the farm. The subtitle is a somewhat ironic allusion to a song from Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

The controversy? Lead character Martin’s attraction to Sylvia. Emotionally estranged from his wife and trying to deal with the unexpected reality of giving birth to a homosexual son, Martin finds himself attracted to Sylvia beyond the usual reasons one might find a goat interesting. The subtext of the play is strongly steeped in the mythic fable of a goat being sacrificed to the partyingist god of them all—Dionysius—as Sylvia winds up being killed by Martin’s wife, Stevie, and brought into the apartment shared with Martin

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? did not just mark Albee’s return, it also managed to overcome what some termed is distasteful subject matter and its controversy to be rewarded with the most mainstream of all affirmations possible in American theatre: the Tony Award for Best Play of the 2002. This honor was received despite the initial Broadway run of Albee’s play not managing to least even a year. In addition to the Tony Award, The Goat was also a finalist for that year’s Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

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