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At Home At the Zoo: Homelife and The Zoo Story

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 


Katie Finneran and Robert Sean Leonard in Home At the Zoo. Photo: Joan MarcusKatie Finneran and Robert Sean Leonard in Home At the Zoo. Photo: Joan Marcus

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 

In 1958, Edward Albee's The Zoo Story, a one-act play destined to become an American classic, premiered in Berlin paired with Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. Almost a half century later, Albee created Homelife as a prologue to The Zoo Story and in 2009, the two one-act plays were combined as At Home at the Zoo, currently in production at the Pershing Square Signature Theater.

Interesting: The opening line in the Act I, Homelife, is "We should talk," Ann's comment to her husband, Peter, in their Upper East Side apartment.

In Act II, The Zoo Story, the opening line is "I've been to the zoo," uttered to Peter by a stranger, Jerry in Central Park.

It takes Peter awhile to respond to either comment, indicating Albee's provocative exploration into the lonely disconnections of the socio-economic classes. Zoos, both literal and metaphorical, separate "civilized" people and untamed animals, unable to communicate, illustrated by spurts of talk and balanced silences by three accomplished actors with sensitive direction by Lila Neugebauer.

Peter, a publisher played by Robert Sean Leonard (The Invention of Love), is immersed in a book that he admits is "boring." Yet, he reads on, barely responding to either his wife, Ann, in Homelife, or the intrusive stranger, Jerry, in the park. He is exquisite with circumspect facial and body reactions when they address him directly, demanding his attention. Revealed are the passionate undercurrents of dark upheaval and danger that Albee jolts with surprising moments of humor.

Katie Finneran (Promises, Promises) delivers lively humor and desperation as Ann, a comfortably well-off wife and mother. She is secure in her marriage to Peter but feels it is a little too reliable, too calm. She confesses she yearns for a little madness and even throws out ideas of some savagery and maybe getting a prophylactic mastectomy. Peter agrees that he also may be up for shaking up the civility in their lives and comments that his penis seems to be retreating due to loss of foreskin. A bit of sharing past sexual experiences colors Albee's extent of their absurdist conversation. Peter decides to take his book to his favorite Central Park bench for the afternoon and as Homelife ends, we feel that the marital status quo will hold firm.

Act II is The Zoo Story when Peter encounters an obviously unstable Jerry played by Paul Sparks (TV's House of Cards).  Jerry, a complex loner, is a restless attention-grabber who begins a rambling monologue and theatrically working the stage as Peter continues reading, barely acknowledging him. Jerry is resentful of Peter's comfortable family life, while he struggles alone in a rooming house. He even talks of trying, unsuccessfully, to befriend his landlady's vicious dog. His flamboyant badgering becomes aggressive and Peter is provoked from his privacy just as Jerry's sudden turn leads to a violent end, directed by Unkledave's Fight-House.

Andrew Lieberman designed two minimalist sets, a neat touch just right for the production. In the first act, the Manhattan apartment has bare white walls with haphazard colored scribbles, and is furnished with a comfortable wing chair, a table and lamp. Central Park is expressed by benches connected in a wide curve. Kate Voyce expressed the lifestyles of the three characters with a loose white dress for Ann. Peter looks literary in a tweed jacket over a shirt and pants contrasting well with Jerry's white tee shirt and jeans.

The characters are all portrayed with nuance and thanks to Lila Neugebauer's direction and Leonard's assured interpretation of the placid Peter, Finneran and Sparks are given time and space to shine.

At Home At the Zoo: Homelife and The Zoo Story

Pershing Square Signature Theatre

420 West 42nd Street.

Previews: Jan. 30, 2018. Opening: Feb. 22, 2018. Closing: Mar. 25, 2018

Running Time: Two hours. One intermission

Cast: Robert Sean Leonard, Katie Finneran, Paul Sparks

Genre: Tragicomedy

Written: Edward Albee

Directed: Lila Neugebauer

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

March 2018

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