This is a Guest Post by Sheila Regan, a freelance writer and theater artist living in Minneapolis. She frequently writes for TC Daily Planet, Patch.com, and contributes to City Pages’ Dressing Room blog, among other publications.
In “Goats,” now playing at Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company, MOT playwright Alan Berks shows off some great storytelling skills as he tells of his journey to Israel as a young man, where he ended up on a farm, herding goats for a mystical cheese maker.
Performed as a one-man-show by Ryan M. Lindberg, who does a wonderful job capturing both the humor and the philosophical ponderings of the main character, the play has no set and is told as a series of colorful stories as a young man seeks to find himself. Lindberg has a charming, conversational tone, and easily takes the audience in on the journey. He gains an easy familiarity with the audience, and with the help of Berks’ text, is able to paint a picture through his voice and movement of the places that he travels and the people he meet.
In the story, the main character finds himself in Israel after a disastrous tour through Europe with his girlfriend, whom he quarreled with before they parted ways. The day he arrives in Israel he gets lured into the teachings of a proselytizing Rabbi and ends up having a religious debate that gets him thinking about his own faith. Later he ends up on a goat farm working for a cheese seller in order to make money for the next leg of his trip in Southeast Asia. There his boss advises him to “think like a goat”. The cheese seller continually spouts off wise and cryptic sayings, frustrating the young shepherd but provoking him to think deeply about his circumstances and the world. Through his misadventures with goats and the host of characters he meets, he grapples with his own faith and the politics of a country riddled with violence. Ultimately he learns about himself and his relationship with Judaism.
Berks evokes some wonderful imagery with his words, and has some great phrases like “a cloud of cumin” that surrounds him on his arrival to Israel, and his description of the Arab mosque “rising like a gold balloon above the city.” The show doesn’t suffer from a lack of dialogue, but rather is enhanced by the entertaining way that the story is told.
While the minimalism of the production design worked for the most part, the show would have benefitted from some curtains or backdrop of some kind. The walls of the theatre were off-white, and have a number of electrical plugs, which hindered Paul Epton’s lighting design, which had lots of effects that were lost because of the distracting background. His window effects, sunset lighting, etc would have been served with a clean palate, and the white walls also enhanced the shadows that were ultimately distracting.
Despite that minor point, the show as a whole is well worth seeing. While it never gets too bogged down in politics, there is enough contemporary context to give complexity to the character’s spiritual discovery. It is an engaging story excellently executed by a very talented actor. It’s definitely worth checking out.
I enjoyed “Goats” very much, and was charmed by Lindberg’s performance. I had the opportunity to spend some time in a small group with the actor following a matinee. During the casual conversation I learned that Shai Selzer is in fact a real-life Israeli goat farmer and cheese seller, and is the man described in Alan Berk’s play. There is a great interview with him that can be found on YouTube:
This really enhanced my enjoyment of “Goats.”