Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
At Home at the Zoo (Zoo Story)
Also see Zander's review of Singin' in the Rain
Albee wrote The Zoo Story in 1958 and it was first performed a year later. While it became a classic American play, the dextrous Albee felt the piece was lacking. Hence, he penned a sequel and the works, together, were first presented at Hartford Stage in 2004. Now, the first hour of the Albee is entitled "Homelife" and the second act is called "The Zoo Story."
Tara Franklin's Ann is an elegant woman, wearing, as furnished by costumer David Murin, a kimono over silk-looking bedroom attire. She is alluring and she feels that her life is lacking. She explains that she enjoys love making with her husband Peter (whom she never addresses by name). A pulsating charge in her life, though, is non-existent. He sits in their posh apartment on the Upper East side of Manhattan, sinking into an easy chair. The set, designed by Randall Parsons, offers comfy accessories. Before the play begins we hear Miles Davis, and then Ann explains that she needs to talk. Peter, wearing business casual clothing, seems like a "normal guy." He accepts his situation: two daughters, parakeets, cat, and pretty wife. Publishing text books seems a match for his personality. He is dealing with a private matter involving a sexual organ and Ann goads him on about thisand much more. One moment leads to the next. The initial component of the play concludes with Peter explaining that he will take a walk to the park.
When the production resumes, Peter sits on a green bench in Central Park and along comes Jerry, who looks ragged and unkempt. He is thin and his jeans have holes in themnot by design. At first, he chats with Peter, then informs him that he, Jerry, lives in a small space in a rooming house. He describes his landlady and her fierce dog. Toward the end of a rambling monologue, Jerry says (to quote the original dialogue), "I have learned that neither kindness nor cruelty, by themselves, independent of each other, creates any effect beyond themselves; and I have learned that the two combined, together, at the same time, are the teaching emotion. And what is gained is loss ..." He, soon thereafter labels himself a "permanent transient." Joey Collins, as Jerry, is startlingly expressive with his delivery, commanding rapt attention from the audience within the intimate Unicorn space.
As was the case during the first act, Peter wishes to be left alone. No chance. David Adkins's role demands that he be, for the most part, a receptor. During each of the acts, though, he is pushed to realize another dimension of his persona. The reserved individual is emotively shaken.
During the early going, Ann proffers that "nothing is ultimately sufficient." She goes on to note that "We'll just vanish." Call these statements existential or pessimistic or coldly realistic. The circumstances the prescient Albee addressed during the late 1950s appear to translate with some recognition as we look toward the final few years of the current decade. Albee combines his deft touch as a writer with an understanding of his times and the universality of the human condition. Hill and three remarkably talented actors, paying attention to each detail, bring the promise of text to live stage with an influential authority. This type of theater experience could be deemed disturbing, but it is crafted with collaborative skill. All three of the performers have previously worked with Hill. The rhythm of each act is precise and the ensuing presentation enduring.
At Home at the Zoo continues at the Unicorn Theatre as part of Berkshire Theatre Group's summer season through August 26, 2017. BTG is located in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. For tickets, call (413) 997-4444 or visit www.berkshiretheatregroup.org.