by Macey Levin
Edward Albee burst onto the theatre scene in 1957 with his stark and multi-layered The Zoo Story leading into a celebrated career that includes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Tiny Alice, A Delicate Balance, Seascape, The Goat and many others. He is known for his thematic concepts regarding the relationship amongst families, communication or lack of it and analytical introspection. Many of his characters are unsympathetic. The audience may understand their perspectives but not empathize with them. This is the case in At Home at the Zoo currently at Berkshire Theatre Group’s Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge, MA.
Almost since The Zoo Story was written people have wondered where Peter was before he arrived at the park for the impending confrontation with Jerry. This play is in two acts: the first is entitled Home Life, which shows Peter earlier that day; The complete The Zoo Story is second.
Home Life opens when Peter’s (David Adkins) wife Ann (Tara Franklin) enters the living room and says “We should talk.” Being absorbed in a text book his company has published, he doesn’t respond. As she urges him to speak about their marriage they reveal secrets of their past lives and insights into their relationship. Peter is more reluctant to discuss their issues while Ann’s ferocity pushes him into confronting the ailments within their marriage. This upper middle class couple with two daughters and two parakeets living in an expensively decorated high-rise apartment building don’t know each other’s needs. Becoming agitated but hiding his emotion, Peter leaves to go sit and read on his favorite bench in a deserted spot in Central Park.
The second act opens with Peter reading on his bench when Jerry (Joey Collins) encounters him and says, repeatedly, “I went to the zoo today.” Peter is at first polite and carries his part of the conversation until Jerry becomes more and more argumentative. He delivers a 17-minute monologue where he tells Peter about his derelict life currently centered on a dog who lives in the same shabby apartment house. Similarly, Jerry is as forceful as Ann in confronting Peter, something he finally cannot tolerate.
Both plays invoke Albee’s constant themes of family, communication and self-inspection. In this production they are heightened by the masterful work of director Eric Hill, who has the ability to elicit nuanced performances and to plumb the demands of the script and the author’s intention. He is abetted by his cast who propel both plays into deep emotional experiences.
Adkins’ Peter spends a great deal of time listening, especially to Jerry. Though he may not saying anything, the actor is fully involved in each scene. He maintains a softness tempered by moments of anger in both plays. This is expert acting. Ann is a woman who feels trapped despite her love for her husband. Franklin brings a force to this woman that springs from somewhere deep inside as she tries to define her needs and her pain. The most psychotically damaged character is Jerry. Collins plays against this by not shrieking or stomping using a quiet intensity to precipitate the conflict and striking ending.
Randall Parsons’ scene design for both acts is simple using minimal pieces to portray the ambience of each setting. Lighting by Solomon Weisbard and the costumes by David Murin enhance the tone and defining elements of the production.
This is a dynamic and searing production of a master playwright at work.
At Home at the Zoo (Zoo Story) By Edward Albee; Directed by Eric Hill; Cast: David Adkins (Peter) Joey Collins (Jerry) Tara Franklin (Ann); Scenic 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; 7/19/17; closing 8/26/17