While many in the theatre community thought Edward Albee’s Tony Award winning play, The Goat or Who Is Sylvia? would be dead with the exit of its stars, Bill Pullman and Mercedes Ruehl, the producers were busy seducing a new cast: two-time Oscar winner Sally Field and Tony winner Bill Irwin. The two, beginning performances in the play Sept. 13 at the Golden Theatre, spoke at a recent press event about their work on Albee’s funny, biting and disturbing drama.
Field, having captured the Oscars for "Places in the Heart" and "Norma Rae," is making her Broadway debut with The Goat. She sought the part of wronged wife Stevie after reading the play.
"It’s profoundly moving. It’s funny. It’s Albee. It’s risky. It’s bold and I loved it," she said.
Field wanted to come to Broadway because she is an actor and—to paraphrase A Chorus Line—an actor acts. Still, without having performed for an audience, it is difficult for her articulate exactly who her Stevie is. However, the character will definitely not be the same woman Ruehl gave audiences. "She is a different Stevie because I’m different, physically and in every other way," Field said.
Irwin, known to theatre audience for his clowning in Fool Moon, was offered a chance to read the part of Martin, an architect who reveals that he's having an affair with a goat named Sylvia. He read for Albee after Field had already been cast. "I don’t know if someone had shown me the play a year ago, what I would have thought of it…But when they called and said would you go down to the theatre and read for Edward Albee tomorrow, I said sure," he said.
Irwin admits he was nervous — and not just about giving a good reading. "You have to say two things to yourself when a question like that comes up: One, I can’t think about anything but doing the best thing, being there and reading the play; but , also, you also have to say, what if they ask you to do it?"
They did ask Irwin to do it and Field’s confirmed involvement convinced him to play the erring husband.
"Sally ‘s decision to do it was a big part of my decision. She’s one of our — not just our generation’s, but one of our era’s — greatest actors," Irwin said.
Albee himself is satisfied with the work of his new cast.
"I saw a rehearsal earlier this week. It was the same play, but it was a totally new experience for me. Nothing was less; nothing was more. Nothing was changed, except with new people being real in the play," Albee said.
Jeffrey Carlson, who plays the couple’s son, and Stephen Rowe, who plays the couple’s best friend, continue on in their roles.
Best known for his landmark Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Albee recently enjoyed a well-received revival of his Tiny Alice at Off-Broadway's Second Stage. The remounting of the drama — which was reviled in its 1963 premiere — was embraced by many critics and, as a result, extended its run. His Occupant and All Over, the latter at the Roundabout's Gramercy Theatre, have also been presented in the 2001-02 season.
Elizabeth Ireland McCann, Daryl Roth, Terry Allen Kramer, Scott Rudin, Fred Zollo, Carole Shorenstein Hays, Scott Rudin and Fred Zollo produce The Goat. David Esbjornson (The Play About the Baby, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) is the director. Designers are John Arnone (set), Kenneth Posner (lighting), Elizabeth Hope Clancy (costumes) and Mark Bennett (sound). Previews began Feb. 16.
Tickets are $25-$65-$75. For reservations, call (212) 239-6200. The Goat plays at the Golden Theatre, where it opened March 10.