Oh, but what a ride it is before we get there, particularly as performed by director Morrie Piersol's able cast. Local theater vet Daniel Moore plays Martin, an architect at the apex of his career, having just won a prestigious prize and a lucrative contract. But the arrival of his 50th birthday seems to have scrambled his brain, and when he almost inadvertently mentions his affair with Sylvia to his devoted wife, Stevie (Melissa Johnston Price), she assumes it's a joke. But in scenes loopy, fierce and ultimately tragic, we find out the explosive truth, with the shockwaves disturbing everyone close to Martin, including his best friend, Ross (Mark Brandon), and his teenage son, Billy (Jeremy Wade).
The play is packed with special delights for the true theater geek, starting with the play's title (a reference to the ancient Greek tragedies, known as "goat songs") and running to toss-off references to Noel Coward and Arthur Kopit.
But there's plenty for even the most casual fan here too, particularly in Price's stirring performance. Her intense confusion, anger and even disgust never blunts her intelligence, so a great line like "A woman in woe often mixes her metaphors" doesn't seem self-conscious. Moore also does excellent work in a role that is like a tightrope: So much depends on Martin being honest not simply ridiculous that one wrong step could send the play whirling into utter absurdity. Moore never falters.
Less successful are Brandon and Wade as the subsidiary characters, but the fault for that is mostly Albee's. Ross, the best friend, is less a character than a catalyst. Wade nails the adolescent angst, delivering a steady performance until Albee uses his character to introduce yet another shocking taboo into the mix (as if livestock weren't enough).
Kudos must be paid to scenic designer Barbara Russell, who successfully evokes a stylish New York apartment setting in a production that is otherwise appropriately spare. It's Albee's language that's the centerpiece here, and if in the end we never really come to understand what motivates Martin to embrace the unimaginable, the sum of it all is a dizzying exploration of love and the limits of propriety. S
"The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?" runs at the Firehouse Theatre Project, 1609 W. Broad St., Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 4 p.m. Through Nov. 19. Tickets cost $10 to $20. Call 355-2001.
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