Review: The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? (Soulpepper)

Photo of Albert Schultz and Raquel DuffyChallenging Edward Albee play brought to the Toronto stage by Soulpepper

The Goat or, Who is Sylvia?,  Edward Albee‘s 2002 Tony Award winning play currently being presented by Soulpepper, is challenging. It’s about bestiality. That’s not a spoiler. The title gives it away, and we find out that Sylvia really is, in fact, a goat early on. For me, the challenging part wasn’t the goat per se. The hard part was being forced to think about how I react to ideas or behaviours far outside my realm of “normal.”

The Goat, or Who is Sylvia centres on Martin, an award-winning architect at the pinnacle of his career. He has a beautiful home and a loving relationship with his stylish wife, Stevie, and his gay 17-year old son, Billy. On his fiftieth birthday, he is being interviewed by his oldest and best friend, Ross, for a television feature. Over the course of the discussion, he reveals that for six months he has been having an affair with a goat with whom he is madly in love. This is not just a sexual thing. He believes that he and Sylvia, the goat, truly connect on an emotional level. He has never felt such happiness. When Stevie finds out, things–not surprisingly–start to come undone.

Martin is played by Albert Schultz as mild-mannered and almost befuddled. He can’t explain why this has happened to him, but he desperately wants Stevie to take him seriously. Stevie, played by Raquel Duffy, is steely and brittle. She is determined to hear the truth and determined to feel and experience her rage. Paolo Santalucia as Billy, meanwhile, was sweet and funny. He’s a precocious teenager who is understandably both bewildered and terrified by the situation.

At first, I kept expecting to find out that it was all a joke. The story was almost too absurd, and there actually is a lot of humour in the play. Albee’s dialogue is razor sharp. Martin and Stevie have an easy, playful, and often hysterical repartee. Even when they’re fighting, they can’t stop making witty comments or appreciating each other’s jokes.

The audience laughed along with them. Yet I couldn’t help feeling that much of our laughter was driven by discomfort and nervousness. This was no joke. This is a family coming apart at the deepest level. While there is no outright violence on stage, there is a lot of screaming, swearing, and throwing things. The ending is disturbingly graphic.

I wouldn’t say I enjoyed The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, but I am definitely glad I saw it. The play forces us to confront what we deem taboo and why. I like to think of myself as liberal and open-minded, but how open-minded am I, really?


  • The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? is play at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts (50 Tank House Lane ) until November 18, 2017
  • Performances are Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30pm with matinees on Wednesday and Saturdays at 1:30pm.
  • Tickets start at $35 and are available by online or by calling the box office at 416-866-8666
  • The play runs 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission
  • The play features mature themes, coarse language, and graphic images

Photo of Albert Schultz and Raquel Duffy by Cylla von Tiedemann