Why Do You Love Me? Second Thought Theatre Deftly Explores Connection and Creativity in 'Goat Song'
Updated: Jul 19, 2021
By Adrian Cook
I came of age in the early 1990s, the heyday of grunge music, post-punk emo, and melancholia. I latched on to bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and the Smashing Pumpkins. The more nihilistic, the more angry and/or depressed, the better. I felt like the front men – Kurt, Eddie, Layne, Billy – were speaking directly to something inside me, a little grey cloud I had no name for, that I now know as clinical depression. I embraced the music, and I embraced the cloud. As a young artist, my dangerous understanding was that I had to suffer like Cobain or slip into addiction like Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley to be as raw, as “real,” as creative as I found my musical heroes. This deadly myth, the one about suffering for one’s art, runs rampant…and it sells records. So, what happens when the artists we find so compelling in their self-destruction “get better,” mature, change? Do we really value the person behind the mic, or do we value only the most heart-wrenching expressions of their darkness?
Second Thought Theatre’s Goat Song explores this and many other poignant themes in the space of a 54-minute streaming production that will leave the viewer with, as they say, “all the feels.”
Goat Song, a one-person one act written by Matt Harmon, won the Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition in 2020 and received its premier in November of last year in Alleyway Theatre’s Digital Play Festival. The play provides a remarkable snapshot of mid-pandemic life, when our connections to one another were (and had been for what seemed like an eternity) almost exclusively on screen. Harmon’s writing goes beyond merely capturing the context none of us will ever forget, it uses the streaming and “Zoom world” modality to advance the possibilities of the theatrical one-hander by brilliantly merging the online theatrical event with the story’s situation. Second Thought’s production, deftly led by director Caroline Hamilton and sharply executed by Drew Wall as Marcus Weeks, delivers an emotional rendering of Harmon’s innovative script.
Goat Song is hyper-contemporary. Framed as a Facebook Live “concert” by punk bassist turned singer-songwriter Marcus Weeks, Second Thought’s production, viewed online, looks like the real thing – complete with chat comments; floating “likes,” “loves,” and “ angry faces;” and especially the inherent awkwardness of the format. The awkwardness made me cringe precisely because Wall’s embodiment of Marcus is so authentic, so unforced that I forgot I was watching an actor act. Instead, I connected with the performing artist in exile…cut off from his fans, from the stage, and from a version of himself that no longer exists.
Performing artists are used to live audiences and trying to navigate a space of isolation in which one is simultaneously alone and connected to one’s audience on a more informal, seemingly intimate level is a tenuous situation for even the most confident of performers. It is hard enough to play a “show” when your audience is virtual and faceless. For those who struggle most with negative feedback but long for accolades, the comments can be a blessing or a curse. When it’s a mixed bag, anything can happen.
As forward thinking as Goat Song is as a theatrical event, it maintains and nurtures deep dramatic roots. “Fans” with usernames like guitargod95 and dreamboat_annie chime in at regular intervals, and as in a true Facebook Live feed, the comments are visible to us, the audience, and to Marcus. The innovation: here is a one-hander where the character speaks directly to the audience (because it’s a stream) but does not simply tell a story; he interacts with the comments, which constitute a slew of characters which are, in this context, just as present as if they were sharing the stage with a protagonist in a traditional theatrical performance. The roots: these commenting users serve the function of a Greek chorus, which originally commented upon the actions of one to three actors. Here the chorus is split – some supportive, some antagonistic -- reflecting, yet again, our contemporary epoch, where divisions are drawn deep in the digital sand.
Though I speak from a position of deep personal identity with musicians in the time of COVID, and thus intimately understand the position of Marcus Weeks as the play begins, the appeal of Goat Song is incredibly universal. Even as we slide back into “normal life,” the digital platforms that served as our lifelines for human contact remain. I will not spoil the arc of the play, but the themes are important and universal as well – love, loss, the search for that ever-elusive state of “authenticity” that we all must navigate, whether we be artists or not, the shaky sand of mental health. And the difficulty, no matter our circumstance, of creating our own true path amidst a constant barrage of likes, comments, and “vomit emojis.”
I wonder if it is ever possible to sever our ties with the expectations of others. I survived my 1990s “tortured artist” phase (even if my idols did not survive theirs); but I find that the older I get, the more I am aware of the many social myths I’ve fallen into lockstep with. If you’ve ever, even for a moment, measured your worth in “likes;” if you’ve ever felt the pull of others’ opinion against what you feel is right for you; if you’ve ever dared to let go of the past in a world that documents…everything… Goat Song will make you feel seen.
Goat Song by Matt Harmon opens Second Thought Theatre's 2021 season. The Regional Premiere is a pre-recorded virtual performance, and available for streaming through July 17, 2021. Get your streaming pass here: http://secondthoughttheatre.com/our-2021-season/goat-song.