Inside the Mind of a Goat: Scenes of Great Beauty at Erickson Theater

By Annie Rose Favreau April 20, 2011

Photo courtesy Chris Bennion.

A young inventor (Brian Claudio Smith), who’s dying to make a flushable toilet, seeks comfort from his goat (Michael Patten) in NCTC’s O Lovely Glowworm.

At first, New Century Theatre Company’s O Lovely Glowworm, or Scenes of Great Beauty seems…well, absurd. Characters are conjured from the pained mind of a taxidermied Irish goat: There’s a homicidal mermaid lounging on a soap bar, a WWI vet who takes his pants off in moments of stress. (The Goat’s quite proud: “I have, with great effort, created an inner life, and it’s lovely!”)

Yet from this chaotic jumble, playwright Glen Berger (who cowrote Broadway’s equally chaotic Spider-Man) shakes out moments of resonance, exploring philosophic puzzlers—life, death, and endurance in the face of anguish—with dark wit. Only here could a man, in his final seconds, wonder if he’s been short-changed at the dry cleaners.

But real life doesn’t have the benefit of a sardonic playwright. On the show’s opening night, NCTC’s Darragh Keenan and Paul Morgan Stetler raised a glass to the late Mark Chamberlin. A veteran Seattle actor, Chamberlin was slated to appear as the Goat until his sudden death in March. (The role is now filled gracefully by Michael Patten.) “Without Mark’s support, this show would not have been possible,” said Keenan. Too true. In a recent Seattle Examiner interview, Stetler said Chamberlin was the driving force behind NCTC’s decision to produce Glowworm in the first place. “Mark was the one who lobbied for us to do this. The idea of not doing the show never really crossed our minds. Mark would have kicked our ass if we canceled.

This actor’s sudden passing and the celebration of his life grant a special synergy to the show. We are reminded, in the words of NCTC’s artistic directors, of the “brevity and fragility of this life of ours.”

With such heavy themes, one might expect a drama. But the cast shines brightest in high-comedy moments. Slapstick fistfights, cutting one-liners and Peter Dylan O’Connor’s delightful physicality—keep an eye out for his rumble with a vintage bicycle—carry the lengthy show between flashes of poetry.

O Lovely Glowworm is on stage at Erickson Theatre through May 14.

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