Review: ‘At Home At The Zoo’ — Albee At His Best
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, February 22, 2018
In Edward Albee’s world, people quarrel, threaten, argue, fight, and struggle against each other. They bite, tussle, demean, condemn. His world is a bleak place, and yet it’s so much fun to be there, at least from the audience’s side of things.
The new production of two of Albee’s short plays, Homelife and A Zoo Story by the Signature Theatre does his difficult world proud. The first half of the evening, Homelife, was actually written second, as a prequel to his first produced play, A Zoo Story. Confused yet? It really doesn’t matter, since it all makes sense in the viewing. Homelife opens with the line, “We should talk,” which is perhaps as ominous a sentence as one human being can speak to another. In this case, the three portentious words are uttered by Ann to her husband Peter (played with natural appeal and believability by Robert Sean Leonard), who is comfortably ensconsed in both his reading chair and his marriage. Two daughters, two cats, and two parakeets (all unseen) accompany Peter and Ann on their marital ark.
But Ann, played by the effervescently appealing Katie Finneran, is not as comfortable as her hubby, and “a little madness” is what she needs and what she, finally, asks for. Peter doesn’t understand, but reveals his own disturbing predicament: his penis, he tells her, “seems to be retreating.” Ann, we discover, is considering an elective mastectomy. Barbarism and destruction all around, but the actual knife doesn’t appear—along with more vivid madness—until the second half of the evening.
Unfortunately for Ann, who longs for more lunacy in her life, it’s Peter who encounters it, in the form of Jerry, in A Zoo Story. “Do you mind if we talk?” Jerry asks Peter, who is reading his ever-present book, this time on a Central Park bench. Jerry wants to tell Peter about his trip to the zoo, along with other disturbing and fascinating tales of his disordered, angry, nasty life. Peter’s protected bubble is punctured—by madness, by hostility, by life.
Although Paul Sparks, as Jerry, starts by capturing the perfect creepy-charismatic balance, his performance depends too much on a small bag of mad tricks. Luckily he’s got this Peter to play off, and despite the fact that the story belongs to Jerry, we’re there for Peter and his increasingly disturbed and frightened reactions.
Life is strange, says the brilliant Albee. Marriage, family, parakeets, even a chat with a stranger in the park—it’s all fraught, it’s all unnerving, it’s all, to quote another of his great plays, a delicate balance continually threatening to shipwreck us all. In Albee’s disturbing vision, it’s also compelling, brilliant theater.
Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo: Homelife & The Zoo Story at Signature Theatre, The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street). Running time: 2 hours (with one intermission), performances through March 18, 2018. Written by Edward Albee. Directed by Lila Neugebauer; scenic design by Andrew Lieberman; costume design by Kaye Voyce; lighting design by Japhy Weideman; sound design by Bray Poor. Cast: Katie Finneran, Robert Sean Leonard, and Paul Sparks.
Cover: (l. to r.) Paul Sparks and Robert Sean Leonard in ‘At Home At the Zoo;’ photo: Joan Marcus.