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Peter and Jerry
With Additional Thoughts by Elyse Sommer
It only took a little under fifty years for Edward Albee to come up with the first act of Peter and Jerry. But what's the rush, we may wryly ask? After all, the second act, known famously as The Zoo Story, has already been widely accepted as a complete one-act play since it first appeared at the Provincetown Playhouse in 1960, following its premiere in 1958 in Berlin, Germany.
The added first act is called Homelife and it's a doozy. Under the sublimely subtle direction of Pam Mackinnon, it craftily provides us with the reasons that prompt Peter (Bill Pulham), after a humorously unsettling conversation with his wife Ann (Johanna Day), to take his fateful excursion to Central Park. The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winner has not exactly been idle between Act 1 and Act II. He's found time in between to write some of the most lauded and seminal plays in American dramatic literature, including Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe (1961), Tiny Alice (1964), A Delicate Balance (1966), All Over (1971) and Seascape (1974). Despite a lean and possibly underappreciated period, recent years have found Albee in a self-refreshed mode. Certainly critics and public alike have been appreciably responsive to Three Tall Women (1991) and The Play About the Baby (1997), The Goat, or Who is Sylvia (2000) (2001), giving further proof that Albee, who will turn 80 on March 12, 2008, remains a master playwright.
The answer to the question of whether or not Homelife by itself places it in the top tier is, for all practical purposes, a moot point. It is not meant to stand alone. As a non-essential, but meaningfully enhanced appendage to what is acknowledged as a contemporary classic, it is a very pleasurable and entertaining bit of exposition. It certainly helps us to understand Peter and his response to Jerry (Dallas Roberts), the unhinged stranger who confronts him in Act II.
As in The Zoo Story, Peter, a self-satisfied marginally motivated publisher of text books is unwittingly coerced into a virtually one-sided discourse that becomes violent with Jerry, an unsavory, talkative loner. Homelife finds Peter, provoked by Ann into an unnerving and unsettling conversation that serves to agitate and stir up questions regarding their conjugal bliss. "We have to talk,"says Ann who disrupts Peter as he sits on the sofa reading a particularly boring textbook. Albee's dialogue finds its level both on what is implied as much as what is actually spoken. The psychological propellants that drive Ann's chatter about cutting off her breasts to avoid the prospect of cancer are clearly meant to make Peter more responsive to her —as is her telling him about her mother's need to have an affair. Peter's reaction is first quizzical then conciliatory, as he shares with her his concerns ("my circumcision is going away" and "my penis is retracting a little.")/
Johanna Day, who originated her role at Hartford Stage, is marvelous at affecting Ann's subtly insinuated carnal drive while also trying not to make Peter feel inadequate. She concurs that their marriage has been "a smooth voyage on a safe ship", but adds that she wouldn't mind "a little disorder, chaos, madness" in their relationship. "You're good at making love, but lousy at fucking, " she says, giving Peter his opportunity to tell her about a certain sex party in college in all its unfortunate details. What is precisely addressed between Peter and Ann is not prurient but rather a human being's latent and repressed animal nature, an aspect of the psyche that craves violence even as it might surface among happily married upper middle class people living in a brownstone in New York's East 70s. Bill Pullman, whose performance in The Goat earned him accolades and a Drama Desk nomination, may look comfortable in his casual clothes, but his conflicted and uncomfortable reaction to a conversation that he clearly would have liked to avoid is palpable and, as we see in Act II, is capable of reaching a boiling point.
There is no point in reconsidering the brilliance or the traumatizing effect that Act II (The Zoo Story) has on the viewer, except that Dallas Roberts gives the kind of emotionally erratic and ultimately chilling performance as Jerry that will give you pause the next time you think about sitting with a good book on a bench in an isolated part of the park. Despite the play having been written in the late 1950's one cannot help but think about the recent news report that 25% of all the returning soldiers from Iraq find themselves homeless, despairing and resentful of those fat cats who have profited from the war, and may be just desperate enough to seek out someone to take them out of their misery.
Designer Neil Patel has wisely chosen to lodge the play in an abstracted space defined by a large green unadorned backdrop. There is need for only a plain sofa, a chair and a coffee table in Act I and two benches and a garbage can in Act II. Other technical credits are in keeping with the general excellence of plays produced by Second Stage Theater.
In addition to this New York premiere of Homelife (the Hartford Stage world premiere dates back to June, 2004), Princeton's McCarter Theater will present the world premiere of Me, Myself and I, Albee's newest play next Spring. The Signature Theater will present Occupant, another play that has yet to be seen in New York, while The Cherry Lane Theater will present revivals of The Sandbox and The American Dream. It's all part of what has been officially designated as The Albee Season.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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