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The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia? (Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy) by Edward Albee

December 25, 2016


Edward Albee is among the many great artists the world lost in 2016. When I heard of his death, I remembered enjoying his play, The Zoo Story, in San Francisco years ago. I picked up this stage play as a way to include Albee in my ongoing reading of plays.

It’s the story of a well-educated family—parents and their teenage son—whose life falls into chaos when it’s revealed that the father, Martin, is in love with a goat. The play follows the structure of a traditional Greek tragedy (though that fact was lost on me, despite its allusion in the title). It examines the limits of what is socially acceptable. It pits rational arguments against irrational emotion in a context of complete absurdity. Albee’s dialogue is smart and funny, with Martin constantly undercutting the serious moments with moments of comedy (some of them unintended). The whole play is a testament to Albee’s mastery and his ability to balance weighty, universal themes with levity, shift from comedy to tragedy within the space of a few words and take the audience exactly where he wants them.

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