The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Background

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Background

In 2002, a new play by Edward Albee appeared on Broadway for the first time since 1986. The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? arrived with expectations already highly uncertain. Albee had been wise enough and crafty enough to set a foundation beforehand for what he warned was bound to be the most controversial premiere of the season. Cats singing and dancing for New York’s well-pocketed tourists was one thing, but a straight-up play not enjoying the once-removed from reality aspect of breaking into song about bestiality among a respected, affluential white heterosexual family was something else entirely.

The answer to the question of whether such a topic was going to fly among paid audience members was immediately answered when the play premiered on March 10 at the John Golden Theater. Though not a runaway hit, that initial run did produce more than three-hundred performances before closing at the end of the year. Mainstream Broadway theater attendees appeared to have little difficulty recognizing that the focus on bestiality is directly introduced and explored on stage as a metaphor, though it is also literally about a man in love with the title animal. But what about the critics?

The answer to that question was even more robustly answered in the affirmative. The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? nearly pulled off the triple crown of American literary honors for drama. Albee was honored with the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play. While it did manage to become one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, it ultimately lost out to Anna in the Tropics by Nile Cruz. The confirmation that bestiality was now a perfectly acceptable topic for dramatic exploration in mainstream American entertainment (provided the exploration was done with taste and serious) came before a live audience of millions as even the controversy-shy Tony Award voters decided that Albee’s play was the best of the year.

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