What is perhaps Edward Albee's most unlikely play, “The Goat Or, Who Is Sylvia?” is certainly one of his very best.
What starts out as a sort of lewd joke concerning one man's ill-fated love affair with a barnyard animal unfolds into a tragedy of Greek proportions, complete with a shocking denouement all the more devastating for its sheer improbability.
Ken Sawyer's consummately realized staging of the play at the Davidson/Valentini Theatre -- a small gem tucked away in the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Village -- charts Albee's torturous trajectory from the ludicrous to the harrowing.
The action transpires on Robert Selander's understatedly opulent set, a fitting background for Pritzker-winning architect Martin (Paul Witten), who is currently designing a Utopian “World City” -- sly irony that will soon become apparent.
Well-matched in every particular, Martin and his wife, Stevie (Ann Noble), enjoy a seemingly perfect marriage. Their warmth, wit and humor extend to their well-adjusted gay son, Billy (Spencer Morrissey).
When Martin ill-advisedly confides his forbidden love to his longtime best friend Ross (Matt Kirkwood), the disgusted Ross soon lets the cat -- make that goat -- out of the bag, with explosive consequences.
Sawyer's cast is exquisite in every particular, from Witten's anguished and sincere Martin, to Morrissey's perfectly callow Billy, to Kirkwood's morally equivocal Ross, who is comfortable with any degree of deception, greed and casual infidelity as long as it jibes with the mores of his old-boy elites.
However, it is Noble who commands our awe in a high-decibel performance that is nerve-shattering and absolutely true.
It's no coincidence that Albee references the Eumenides early on in the play. Under Sawyer's astute tutelage, Noble's Ann metamorphoses into a modern-day Fury bent on a mission of righteous vengeance that excites both our sympathy and our horror.
"The Goat Or, Who Is Sylvia?” Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Los Angeles LGBT Center's Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 23. $30. (323) 860-7300. www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatre. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.