Thursday, March 24, 2011

Edward Albee's At Home At The Zoo at Arena Stage

An encounter on a Sunday afternoon.    One man is simply enjoying the peace of a park bench and a good read.    The other, soon to be revealed as aggressive and potentially threatening begins a conversation.    The encounter continues becoming more and more intense.    Yet, the man on the bench does not leave.   Instead he makes the decision to fight for his "territory."  This decision leads to a shocking result.

That, in the proverbial nutshell is the general plot of The Zoo Story, written by Edward Albee in 1958.   The Zoo Story is an interesting two character piece.   Mr. Albee actually has called it a one and a half character piece.    And, that observation is true.    Jerry, who intrudes upon Peter's Sunday afternoon respite is a domineering personality.    Peter begins merely as a sounding board for Jerry's agitation against the world.     The audience is left in bewilderment as to why Peter simply doesn't walk away from the dangerous encounter.     Yet, perhaps it is because Mr. Albee has written for Jerry a spellbinding tale of a man and his battle with his landlady's dog that the character of Peter becomes unable to leave just as the audience becomes both repulsed and fascinated with Jerry and unwilling to leave the theater to find out how this will end.      And it is the still shocking ending of The Zoo Story that leaves the audience talking about the play 53 years after it was first written.

The Thespian had not seen The Zoo Story since it was performed in excerpts in various acting classes she took decades ago.    I certainly had not seen the play coupled with the first act Homelife that Mr. Albee wrote in 2003/2004.     Homelife is another two character one-act play.    We meet Peter in the hour before he encounters Jerry on that park bench.   This time his sparring partner is his wife, Ann.   Homelife becomes the character study of Peter that we are lacking in The Zoo Story.    Here we see that he is a passive, gentle person who is perhaps too comfortable in his marriage.    We see that his wife, Ann is desperately trying to engage Peter to get any emotional response from him even with a bit of foreshadowing violence.     Yet, Peter resists Ann's goading as much as he is unable to resist Jerry's.  And in a tale of his past, the audience learns why Peter has become the gentle man that is eventually broken by his encounter with Jerry.

Homelife is not as strong a piece as The Zoo Story.    The acting is uniformly good.   Colleen Delaney as Ann and Jeff Allin as Peter are at ease with the rhythms of Mr. Albee's language.  They provide an easy portrait of a long married couple that seems more comfortable talking at each other rather than with each other.  Mr. Allin proves an excellent listener in The Zoo Story when he is required to give James McMenamin's Jerry his undivided attention.   Mr. McMenamin is spellbinding as Jerry.    We've all met people like Jerry who make us very uneasy.  Most of us would extricate ourselves from a long encounter.   Yet, Mr. McMenamin  manages to make us want to hear the end of Jerry's stories just as Mr. Allin makes us believe that Peter would stay and listen to them.  

Yet, after the evening was ended, The Thespian felt that she wanted to see more.   Mr. Albee has returned to this story to show us a prequel.   Now I want to know the sequel.   What happens to Peter?   Does he tell all to Ann?  What would be her reaction?   Having been given the privilege of knowing Peter's home life before The Zoo Story, now I want to know his home life afterwards.

At Home At The Zoo will be performed in the Kogod Cradle at Arena Stage Mead Center for American Theater through April 24, 2011 as part of the Edward Albee Festival.   For tickets, dramaturg notes and additional information please visit

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