note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
For the past 10 years, Zeitgeist Stage has successfully featured edgy, hard-hitting plays. The group closes this season with multi-award winning playwright Edward Albee’s “At Home at the Zoo,” which pairs Albee’s “The Zoo Story,” penned in 1958, with a new prequel, “Homelife,” that premiered in Hartford, Conn. in 2004. The two, one-act plays debuted together as “Peter and Jerry” or “At Home at the Zoo” in 2007.
As with many of Albee’s plays, including Pulitzer Prize-winning “A Delicate Balance,” “Seascape,” and “Three Tall Women,” and his outstanding “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “The Goat: Or Who is Sylvia,” the prolific writer balances realism with absurdism, human frailties and societal differences in this pairing of dramatic plays.
As a prelude to “The Zoo Story,” Albee wrote “Homelife,” a sparring match between bored wife, Ann, (Christine Power), who wants more chaos in her life, and Peter, (Peter Brown), her complacent, scholarly, well-to-do husband, who edits textbooks for a publishing house. Ann’s frustration drives Peter to shake his serenity on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, forcing him to tell unnerving secrets he never shared before, to explain why he’s always so low-key. Their altercation drives Peter to take a walk to his favorite bench in nearby Central Park, to read his book in peace - or so he thinks.
Zeitgeist Stage Artistic Director David Miller, who usually sits on the sidelines, directing, takes center stage for the first time, acting with Brown in “The Zoo Story”. Miller portrays lonely, social outcast Jerry, a role he’s wanted to play for the past 30 years. Director Naeemah A. White-Peppers ensures the sharp contrast between Jerry, and scholarly Peter.The fast-paced dialog between the two men who meet happenstance in Central Park starts slowly, builds suspensefully, then rises to a psychological fervor that turns from curious to furious, ending in violence.
“I’ve been to the zoo,” grungy-looking Jerry chimes in, child-like, breaking Peter’s reverie. “Do you mind if we talk?” thus kicking off a psychological back-and-forth, which Peter increasingly can’t ignore. As Jerry’s story becomes more bizarre, so does his behavior. Throughout the play, Brown, Power and Miller are commanding.
In the cozy space at Plaza Black Box Theater, Miller has created a 1970‘s living room in New York City’s posh East Side, that faces an outdoor Central Park set, with a bench. The action in both plays occurs within hours of each other.
Seated perpendicularly nearby, on opposite sides of the room, the audience gets a bird’s-eye view of both sets, while Kimberly Smith’s lighting adds mood to the tense atmosphere.
“At Home at the Zoo” isn’t a pleasant walk in the park on a lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s much more - a blending of a successful earlier play that leaves the audience in shock, preluded with a provocative introduction that can easily stand on its own power. As a pair, this production packs a potent one-two punch.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour play, written by Edward Albee, appearing through May 28 with Zeitgeist Stage at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Plaza Black Box Theater, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston.Showtimes are Wednesdays, Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 4,8 p.m.; Sundays, 4 p.m. Advance tickets, $25; day of performance, $30; seniors, students, $20. May 25, pay-what-you-can, $7 minimum. Visit the Box Office at the Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St. or call 617-933-8600.