PORTLAND — There are plenty of laughs, particularly in the early going of Edward Albee’s “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia,” now running at Mad Horse Theatre.

But as the award-winning play of 2002 moves along, audiences may also feel compelled to mouth the word “yuck” more than a few times.

This play, an allegory of sorts, can make you both giggle and squirm, as things do turn decidedly toward the primitive. As with much of his work, Albee wants to get at what holds people — in “The Goat,” an affluent family consisting of a husband, wife and teenage son — together and what will rip them apart.

The play is subtitled “Notes toward a definition of tragedy,” so you know we’re not talking kid stuff here. This is a sophisticated drama, which might seem an odd assertion when the main issue for the characters is what to make of the father’s romantic relationship with a farm animal.

James Herrera takes the lead role of Martin, a highly regarded architect who confides to his close friend Ross, played by Jaimie Schwartz, that he’s developed this odd and very passionate relationship with a goat he “met” while looking for a country house.

Ross feels compelled to inform his friend’s wife, Stevie, played by Christine Louise Marshall, of the disturbing affair. This is much to the consternation of Martin, who realizes things may never be the same for his marriage with his transgression out in the open. Their gay son, Billy, played by Benedetto Robinson, also finds out and has his own understandably strong reaction.

Director David Currier has played it pretty straight with Albee’s script, first introducing the principal characters as seemingly self-satisfied, successful people who love to congratulate each other on their playful attempts at erudition. As the going gets tougher, Currier keeps them moving around the apartment setting as they launch into ever more intense speeches through which they seek to somehow find a rational way out of their unimaginable situation.

Marshall was particularly impressive in Thursday’s performance, putting great force and emotion behind the wife’s rapid descent into a most primal despair. Her screams and final transformation were truly chilling.

Herrera made his character’s gradual realization that he’s gone way too far lead to a final humanization, at a disturbing cost, of a fellow not terribly likeable before those last moments.

This is a play that will likely stick with audiences (and perhaps make them long for more productions of Albee plays in future seasons). “The Goat” reveals that there are taboos and mysteries around which only the best artists can show the way. 

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.