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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
At Home at the Zoo (Zoo Story)
Director Eric Hill has a gift for subtext as evidenced in BTG's 2016 The Homecoming and this Albee two-acter demonstrates this sensitivity. He has cast three fine actors: David Adkins (Peter,) Tara Franklin (Ann) and Joey Collins (Jerry) whose sense of nuance and timing project Albee's views of subliminal anger masked by polite and civilized repartee.
At Home at the Zoo was once Albee's The Zoo Story written in 1958 prior to Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It is what brought him to the forefront of the American Theater with its provocative insight into the darker passions that lie beneath the human veneer of civility.
The original play was a chance, perhaps, meeting of two men in Central Park. Peter, a smugly satisfied text book publishing executive, is quietly reading in his favorite secluded area. When a marginal, social outcast, Jerry, appears, Peter has his day and life irretrievably altered.
The play has long been acknowledged as the quintessential censure on the middle class's complacency with their materialistic success — seen by Albee as people who have spurned their deeper human needs in favor of complacent humdrum lives. It left the audience to imagine the prior events of each man's life and to ponder the result of their encounter after the play ended, in spite of the audience's recognition of the inevitable outcome.
In 2007 Hartford Stage commissioned Albee to write a companion piece to The Zoo Story and no matter how it may appear as a prequel, it also stands on its own as an examination of the trade offs made in modern marriage.
In an upscale apartment near Central Park, Ann and Peter chat about quotidian events in spite of David's preoccupation with a recently published textbook; but it soon becomes obvious that they are not really communicating. The first line Ann utters is that dreaded sentence in every marriage, "We should talk." Peter, immersed in his reading, has not heard her. As the conversation progresses it is obvious that he has not been listening to her for a while in spite of their financial ease, two children, cats and parakeets.
In an almost amusing passive-aggressive tug of war, he complains that his penis's circumcision is growing back. She wants more "animal" in their marriage. It is a funny and sad commentary on modern life where people have every creature comfort, yet lack some sort of connection to their deep-seated feelings and impulses.
The plays need to be seen to understand the subtle intricacies of human conversation. It is the acting that makes this evening worthwhile. David Adkins as Peter uses his finely controlled facial expressions and listening abilities which are indeed the talent of an artist of the highest caliber. His character Peter is obtuse, sympathetic and trapped — first by his wife and then by the drifter Jerry.
Tara Franklin's Ann is snared in what appears to be a happy marriage. She has everything yet seems to want less of it. The trade-off of primal for predictable is something that niggles at her. Franklin's easy transitions from well-adjusted wife to seething animal are the abilities of a cerebral actress whose sexuality shimmers as she goads the clueless Peter to reveal another side of himself.
Collins' Jerry of Act Two delivers a powerful performance of pleasant menace which challenges the audience's nervous system. We feel threatened, but like Peter we are seduced; Jerry' compelling glibness invites us into his world in spite of our better judgment. Collins is an attractive psychotic and we, like Peter, have to listen.
Though some of Albee's purist followers have found fault with the fact that he insists that the two plays must now be performed together, each piece could serve on its own. In BTG's production they meet to create an electrifying evening of challenging theater. Albee fans will cheer; newcomers will enjoy a revelation into his well-deserved place in American theater.
The sets by Randall Parsons are simple and evocative of the New York scene. We are easily transported from an upscale Manhattan apartment to Central Park with a very few creative set pieces and Solomon Weisbard's evocative lighting. Costumes by David Murin, especially for Tara Franklin. are chosen to enhance each character's underlying personality. This is an excellent choice for BTF's Unicorn's intimate ambience, where the acting and direction of Albee's At Home at the Zoo are seen in the strongest possible light.
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At Home at the Zoo (Zoo Story) by Edward Albee
Directed by Eric Hill
Cast: David Adkins (Peter) Joey Collins (Jerry) Tara Franklin (Ann)
Scene design: Randall Parsons
Costume design: David Murin
Lighting design: Solomon Weisbard
Sound design: J. Hagenbuckle
Stage Manager: Chandalae Nyswonger
Running Time: Two hours; one intermission
Berkshire Theatre group, Unicorn Theatre, Stockbridge, MA
From 7/19/17; closing 8/26/17
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 24 performance
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