Claudia Karvan was busy. work, children, family. All of it. But now, after turning 50 and these kids are on the edge of the nest, she’s doing something she hasn’t done in 24 years — she’s returning to the theater.
“In my puritanical work ethic, I judged theater to be too lenient while I was raising kids and paying mortgages and stuff,” she says. “And now you can let go of those judgments and celebrate theater for what it is.”
The last play Karvan performed in was fred, 1999, at the Sydney Theater Company. What she has chosen for her return is the gooey and complex, wildly absurd Edward Albee comedy, The Goat or Who is Sylvia?which pushes the limits of what people find acceptable.
directed by Mitchell Butel, The goat It follows a family – Stevie, played by Karvan, and her award-winning architect husband Martin, played by Nathan Page, and their son Billy (Yazeed Darum) – and what happens when Martin confesses he’s in love with a goat. Yes, a goat.
“It’s a really unusual piece,” says Karvan. “I don’t know if I can compare it to anything else. I call it a crowd favorite because it’s so fast and so funny, but it’s a challenge. And it’s not for everyone. And I think if you’re not interested in the absurd, it probably won’t be your thing.”
Karvan chats via Zoom from Adelaide, where the play fittingly premiered at the State Theater of South Australia on Valentine’s Day. “Well, people can go home and just be so thankful their partner didn’t fall in love with a goat,” she says, laughing.
Karvan laughs a lot – throws his head back and takes great delight in the ridiculous. What to do when dealing with a play that delights in asking the unimaginable: goats or not goats?
When Albee wrote it in 2002, he did it to provoke and say interview Magazine “It will shock and disgust a number of people. If you’re lucky, people will stand up and shake their fists and throw things on stage during the performance.”
So is it the worst thing to fall in love with a goat? In other words, where is the limit?
“There are so many different ways to play it,” says Karvan. “But one possibility is, imagine you’re in the 18th century and the goat isn’t a goat, the goat is a person of color or a person of the same sex, or you’ve converted to Islam. It’s a construct that can be exchanged for so many previously contested choices or choices.”
For Karvan, Stevie’s total loss of identity is one of history’s greatest tragedies. Here was a woman who doesn’t work, wrapped up in her family, and then it’s gone.
“She lives for her husband,” says Karvan. “And she’s articulate, smart, perceptive, funny, sexy, playful. But she has no career. That’s why tragedy works so well, because — as one viewer said [during a Q&A] and I thought it was such a weird question at the time – what would the play be like if it was Stevie falling in love with the goat?
“I’ve thought about it, and it’s actually an interesting question because there wouldn’t be a play. Because if Stevie fell in love with a goat, Martin would be heartbroken. But he would still have his career. She, on the other hand, has nothing. Your whole life has been built or built around this really deep and beautiful meaningful relationship. She has more to lose.”
Does Karvan think everyone has a line?
“Oh, I would say so. They would hope so,” she says. “But the line moves and changes and recedes and then advances, doesn’t it? I think it’s a moving line and it depends on very specific instances and examples.”
My leash is crumbs on the kitchen bench.
“You’re very tolerant,” she says, laughing. “Mine lands much further out.”
There’s a line Karvan crossed — albeit 30 years ago, if you can believe it — when she was in the film The heartbreaking child as a teacher who has an affair with her student, played by Alex Dimitriades. It was the trigger for the TV series heartbreak high and last year’s internationally successful Netflix reboot.
It’s wild when you think about it The heartbreaking child now that in 1993 it was perfectly fine – even sexy – to show a teacher having a romantic relationship with her student.
“I saw some comments online – ‘When is Claudia going to apologize?’ And ‘The heartbreaking child was a transgression and that was sexual abuse,’” she says. “Needless to say it wouldn’t be done today.
“And yet so many people still come up to me and say how much they loved it. And then I say, “Well, you know, it’s probably not really ethical,” [and they say] ‘Well, it was a great movie’.”
It’s the goat again.
“[The line], it’s constantly changing and makes us very aware of which side of the story we’re about to encounter,” says Karvan. “Will we be on the right side of history?”
At that time, The heartbreaking child was considered a sweet coming-of-age story. Today, Karvan says, her character Christina would be dragged into court.
“My personal experience with it was that I was 19 years old when I did it,” she says. “So anyway I was too young to play the role and Alex Dimitriades was 17. So in my eyes I don’t see it as a spectator, I’m the actress who feels incredibly vulnerable and feels like us [Karvan and Dimitriades] were equal.”
Karvan jokes that the bigger problem was that her character was Greek.
“My [character’s] was called Papadopoulos,” she says. “I’m more concerned that I played a Greek girl and I wasn’t Greek. I’m waiting to be taken down for this. Remove her from her OAM!” She screams again.
The fact that Karvan is still being approached about a movie she made 30 years ago speaks to her longevity. She is one of the few actresses working today that is relevant to all of Generation X (love my way), Generation Z (The secret life of us became a lockdown hit) and millennials (Bump). Even the Boomers they’ve been watching become third parties Dancing with the stars In 2020 she fell in love with her.
That she turned 50 last year seems impossible — especially since I grew up watching her on TV and haven’t aged a day since 2001 — but it’s something Karvan has thought about.
“I just feel so much relief,” she says. “Lightness, clarity. It’s funny because I didn’t really care about turning 20 or 30 or 40, you know, nothing really changed, everything was still pretty much the same.”
But 50 brought with it the death of her birth father, Peter. She’s also reportedly recently split from longtime partner Jeremy Sparks, and her children Albee (yes, he’s partly named after the playwright) and Audrey, as well as stepdaughter Holiday, are at an age where they don’t think so of their mother anymore very need .
“There’s something going on, you know,” she says slowly. “And also having older children, saying goodbye to that part of your life. And a sort of return to the freedom you had in your 20s. And yet you have 30 years of wisdom under your belt. That is interesting…”
She doesn’t say too much, she says, since it’s the ground that will be covered in an upcoming one Australian history Episode in the ABC. “[The producer] said, “You know what? We have too much access and too much history!’” she says, throwing her head back and laughing again.
“I’m so glad I’m not producing this TV episode. Because it will be impossible. In any case, it will be interesting. I’ll just treat it like it’s half an hour of entertaining television. It will not be the last word on my own life.”
What will be the last word in her life?
“I have yet to write a book. And then I have to put out an album too.”
can she sing
“I sang with Hugh Jackman Paperback Hero. And I sang at my wedding The secret life of us…” She laughs again.
Following our interview, Karvan is back on stage in Adelaide for a week before the show moves to Sydney and opens at the Roslyn Packer Theatre.
The play has been “a delight so far,” says Karvan, although it seems perfectly acceptable behavior in the theater in Adelaide to stretch your legs halfway through a performance. If anything, it’s a change from the normally quiet televisions that Karvan inhabits.
“It was interesting,” she says. “Trying to tune out the viewers whose alarm clocks went off and decided they needed to get up and stretch their legs because they had back pain or were talking to the neighbor. That’s great. And embrace all of that. And the strikes.
“But the laughter is wonderful. It can be quite seductive, but you don’t want to be a laughing slut, you really need to stay very emotionally connected.
“And when I can be in Stevie’s headspace, the laugh almost feels like a slap in the face because of the way the play is made up. The audience is essentially laughing at our pain, laughing at the tragedy we are going through.”
Once The goat is over, Karvan is again developing ideas for a possible fourth season of Bump (where her character Angie regularly spots a line and then makes a running jump over it) and she also has two books that she adapts for the screen, The other half of you by Michael Mohammed Ahmad and The Thrush by Sophie Laguna. She will also appear in the upcoming eight-part psychological thriller on Disney+ The Gladeinspired by the real-life cult The Family.
But as always, Karvan seems super laid back with whatever is going on. Goats, dammit.
“If you need anything else,” she says. “Just make it up!”
The Goat or Who is Sylvia? is at the Roslyn Packer Theater from March 2nd to April 1st.
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https://www.smh.com.au/culture/theatre/claudia-karvan-s-next-act-it-s-not-everyone-s-cup-of-tea-20230217-p5cle9.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture “This is not for everyone”