Directed by Steve Scott
At City Lit Theatre, Chicago
Our animal instincts still exist even for a timid gentleman
For some strange reason, Edward Albee felt he had to write a first act in 2004 to his 1959 one-act, The Zoo Story. Maybe he felt that more theatres would produce the work if it was a full play? So now, if you want the rights to do ‘Zoo,’ you must do it as At Home at the Zoo. The result is to make patrons sit through a slowly unfolding yet serviceable prequel.
The act one piece was originally called Homelife finds Albee trying to establishing Peter’s family life. It features Ted Hoerl as the relaxed textbook publisher, Peter, most content with his upper middle class life. Elaine Carlson 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.
While Elaine Carlson and Ted Hoerl exude a honesty only found in a long marriage, Albee’s first act plays too long and repetitive despite fine work from both players. I believe it will play better for those who have no knowledge of The Zoo Story. 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 watch the inferior first act in order to witness Albee’s provocative masterpiece – The Zoo Story. Mike Cherry, bald-headed with a thick beard 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 Cherry. His performance is amazingly complex, scarey and intense. The Zoo Story is a landmark work of the American theatre that doesn’t need a tepid first act to justify its existence. Steve Scott has made act one watchable and act two powerfully mysterious. This is the first time, I believe that the extend ‘Zoo’ stories work as a complete night of theatre. Ted Hoerl is quite effective as the gentlemanly Peter. Albee’s dialogue is delicious.
Date Reviewed: September 23, 2014
For more info checkout the At Home at the Zoo page at theatreinchicago.com
At City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-293-3682, www.citylit.org, tickets $29, Fridays & Saturdays at 7;30 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 1 hour 55 minutes with intermission, through October 26, 2014