“The Goat,” otherwise known as “Who is Sylvia? (Notes Toward a Definition of Tragedy),” might be the strangest show you watch all year. It is strictly for mature audiences only, both the director and the website warned.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime play,” director Murray McGibbon said. “It’s a very controversial play, and we’re finally doing it at IU.”
It is one of two big Bloomington shows on the bill for the last weeks of the semester. Ivy Tech Student Productions is also performing “Evil Dead the Musical” in December. Opening at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 30 in the Wells-Metz Theatre, “The Goat” will run until Dec. 8.
The performance will be long-awaited for McGibbon, after years of trying to get it under the lights of an IU stage.
“I’ve been submitting it since 2002, so I’ve been advocating for it for nearly 16 years," McGibbon said. "Linda Pisano was a big advocate for the play, as well. I’ve directed 35 plays over 23 years and this is, by far, the boldest, strongest play I’ve ever directed. It’s going to cause a lot of discussion.”
McGibbon was hesitant to reveal any plot details about “The Goat,” since he felt much of it relies on shock and surprise. The story centers around the main character, Martin, played by Jay Hemphill, a first-year MFA student. Martin is an unhappily married man who seeks to find love outside of his marriage. The play deals with loss, love and the extent of our own empathy. When Hemphill read the script for the first time, it scared him.
But in a good way.
“The situation is absurd, but relatable,” Hemphill said. “I know the audience might not like the subject matter, but I hope they can take to it.”
Hemphill said he feels responsible for connecting the audience to Martin, and subsequently, the bizarre plot. He sees the play as “a journey of understanding.”
Off campus, Ivy Tech Student Productions nears its final show of the year as well, with “Evil Dead the Musical,” adapted from Sam Raimi’s 1981 cult-classic.
“I think the first step with all of these kinds of adaptations is a worryingly deep obsession with the source,” Rory Willats, the show’s director, said.
While a comedy musical may seem like a strange divergence for a supernatural horror franchise, Willats feels this evolution honors its legacy aptly and creatively.
“The original 'Evil Dead' movies find such a bizarre balance between humor and ‘is-it-humor?’ that makes them the cult classics they are,” Willats said. “I was bent on bringing some of that balance back into this camp parody – to both laugh at and celebrate this wild world Sam Raimi made.”
Willlats appreciated the break for Thanksgiving, building and preparing the production schedule around it.
“This break is a rare opportunity for the actors to step back from the details of rehearsal to look at the major arc of their role before we put all the elements together for opening night,” Willats said.
One of these actors is Garrett Thompson, a senior English major, who plays the main character, Ash. During his time home for the holidays, he used this opportunity to brush up on lines and music, looking for beats and details that might be easy to overlook. He’s incredibly aware of the task he has at hand when it comes to stepping out of actor Bruce Campbell’s iconic shadow.
“I think the worst thing you can do is watch the source material too much,” Thompson said. “I believe that it’s important to build a foundation for a character in yourself before you ever, if you ever, look at the origins of the character.”
During the season of giving thanks, Thompson was sure to remember the musical director, Brian Samarzea, and fellow actor and friend in the show, Kaila Day. But, before everyone else, he thanked his director.
“He’s been so open during this process and encourages us all to be collaborative during rehearsals and helps so much in making this show feel unique to us,” Thompson said.
The musical premieres at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center’s Rose Firebay Theatre.