ESU Presents “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?

Alex Misurella, Hunter James Fogel, and Shannon Faegan on the set. Photo Credit / Dana Reese
Alex Misurella, Hunter James Fogel, and Shannon Faegan on the set.
Photo Credit / Dana Reese

SC Editor in Chief

East Stroudsburg University’s Department of Theatre presents “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” March 5 through the 9 at 8 PM and March 10 at 2 PM in the Smith McFarland Theatre located in the Fine & Performing Arts Center.

Directed by Professor Susan O’Hearn and written by Edward Albee, the play stars four ESU students. The play is recommended for mature audiences.

“The plays of Edward Albee are not for the faint hearted,” says the Director’s Note in the event’s program.

Albee tells the story of Martin Gray (Hunter James Fogel), a fifty-year-old architect living with his wife, Stevie (Shannon Faegan) and son, Billy (Alex Misurella).

The family lives an apparently happy and blissful life until Martin confides a destructive secret to his friend, Ross (Joseph Dougherty): that Martin is in love with a goat named Sylvia.

While Professor O’Hearn did not consider it the most controversial play ever performed at ESU, she admitted that audiences do not easily accept Albee’s work.

“When the critics saw it in New York, many of them—and we’re talking the biggest critics—loathed it and gave it the worst reviews possible, but the audience kept coming,” said O’Hearn. “And people kept coming to such a degree, that the critics returned.”

In Ben Brantley’s March 2002 New York Times review of the play, the day after its opening night, he described it as, “a play that sadly falls short of its high ambitions.”

Yet, the play would go on to win the Tony Award for Best Play and Drama Desk Award for Best New Play in that same year, and it would be nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2003.

“I didn’t pick it because it shocks people; I didn’t pick it because I want to alienate the audience in any way,” explained O’Hearn. “I liked it because it made me think. If a play makes me think and a play tests me, that’s why I go to the theatre.”

Anyone familiar with Albee’s plays will recognize his masterful use of wordplay.

“Albee uses these very intelligent, sensitive people who are seemingly tolerant of everything, and then has them use language as a mask. And I know a lot of people that do that. It’s a way of deflecting what it is you really want to talk about.”

Albee subtitled the work “Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy”. Though the audience might approach the play with a sense of laughable incredulity after only reading the synopsis, there is a tragic tone throughout the play, escalating into the final scene.

“How dreadful an ending,” said O’Hearn. “To take this frothy, light and bubbly beginning—this adoring and loving couple—and then see what happens at the end, you have to stop and ask “Why? How could this happen?” And you can’t believe you’re saying it.”

While O’Hearn hopes the mixture of comedy and tragedy will leave the audience laughing and questioning, she also realizes the strange mixture of emotions holds the actors to a tough job.

“Most modern playwrights do not combine comedy and tragedy in the same vein, and it’s difficult to do. It’s difficult to pull off,” said O’Hearn. “I had over 30 people audition, and four people got it.”

The four stars are all students of the Theatre department. Shannon Faegan, who will be playing Stevie, is a sophomore Theatre major. Hunter James Fogel is a sophomore majoring in both English and Theatre, and Fogel will be playing the role of Martin. The actor playing Ross, Joseph Dougherty, is a Business Accounting and Theatre major. Alex Misurella is a freshman majoring in Musical Theatre. All four have been in previous university plays, including the most recent, “The Diary of Anne Frank” production.

“It’s kind of amazing that we put it all together,” said O’Hearn. “I mean, we’ve been rehearsing for a month, and the actors were cast last semester, so they came in knowing what they were up against.”

Though the play’s only setting is the living room of Martin’s home, there are scenes that require breaking tens of household objects and, of course, a goat.

“We did get the skin of a goat and we stuffed it, “ said O’Hearn. It was a skin that a taxidermist just had taken from a goat. It’s quite real, and of course it will be quite bloody, so it’s something; this play is something else.”

While the play received mixed reviews during its early years on the stage, its reception at ESU should be in high review.

“I don’t know what the reactions are going to be, and that’s the most exciting part of theatre; you have no idea. And without the audience, you have no play. We have a connection—there’s energy that comes off the stage and goes out into the house, and then comes back—and I don’t know how it’s going to come back,” said O’Hearn.

“Some people don’t get it, but I will be very curious to see our student response.”

“The Goat, or Who is Sylvia” is open to the general public. General admission is $12, faculty/staff and senior citizen admission is $10 and admission for students with ESU IDs are $7. For more information or ticket reservations, please call 570-422-3483.

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