Directed by Dennis Zacek
At Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago
Albee gets half the evening correct
Amazingly, Edward Albee, a truly demanding hands-on playwright who requires approval of the cast before he gives rights to his plays, butchered his legacy by writing a worthless first act in 2007 (originally titled Homelife) that now must be mounted in order to present his fabulous 1958 one-act, The Zoo Story. The first act of the now titled: At Home At the Zoo is a wordy, repetitive boring piece that depicts Peter’s family life as a sort of set up for the brilliant The Zoo Story. Maybe it was Albee’s ego or a bout with dementia because why diminish the play that established you as a playwright with an inferior work such as Homelife?
Homelife finds Albee trying to establishing Peter’s family life. It features Tom Amandes as the relaxed textbook publisher, Peter, most content with his upper middle class life. Annabel Armour plays Ann, his conniving wife who is slowly dying due to boring compromises the couple has made over the years. She makes Peter talk about extremely personal matters that he is clearly uncomfortable with such as his belief that his circumcision may be becoming undone. Ann chides Peter’s penchant to play it safe sexually; she wants him to rekindle the ‘animal within.’ Ann needs some upheaval to stimulate her desires; Peter rejects her approach. As Peter becomes uncomfortable with Ann’s blunt talk that defines the difference between ‘love making’ and fucking, Peter decides to take a walk to the park. Me and much of the audience found this over written act tedious and unnecessary. In order to make the second act work (as it has for more that 50 years), we don’t need to know that Peter is being hen-pecked by his wife.
It is too bad that audiences have to suffer through that awful first act in order to witness Albee’s provocative masterpiece – The Zoo Story! Marc Grapey is electrifying as Jerry, the self-loathing repressed gay man whose death wish is played out as the culmination of his encounter with Peter. Jerry senses that Peter is everything that he is not – socio-economic difference; relaxed and contented verses Jerry’s anxiety and loneliness. Jerry’s long speeches are funny, stinging and cynical. They clearly demonstrate the talent for dialogue that Albee possesses. The story about the dog at his apartment was marvelously presented by Grapey. The Zoo Story is a landmark work of the American theatre that doesn’t need a tepid first act to justify its existence. Unfortunately, Albee hold us prisoner for an hour while he feeds a demon that compels him to insist that Homelife be mounted to set up a work that doesn’t need one. Be patient, act two makes the evening worthwhile.
At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL, call 773-871-3000, www.victorygardens.org, tickets $20 – $50, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30, Saturdays at 4 & 7:30, Sundays at 3 pm, special Wednesday matinee at 2 pm on Oct.20, running time is 2 hours with intermission.