Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware
Edward Albee’s Zoo Story is one of his most well-known works – and, I’d argue, one of theater’s most well-known works overall. Berkshire Theatre Group has taken this piece – still shocking and relevant after almost 60 years – and paired it with its companion piece, Homelife; the end result is theatrically explosive and emotionally wrenching.
In the first act, we meet Peter (David Atkins) and his wife Ann (Tara Franklin); Peter is a mild-mannered New York City textbook company executive trying to get through a boring book on a Sunday morning when Ann interrupts him wanting to talk. Their conversation highlights the differences between them; although they’ve been married a long time and love one another, their desires and personalities are very different and their lack of communication is beginning to take its toll. In the second act, Peter goes to Central Park to read; he meets Jerry (Joey Collins), a stranger desperate for connection who comes in announcing “I’ve been to the zoo,” who begins to question Peter pointedly about his life while telling stories about his own. The conversation begins to get darker and Peter doesn’t seem to have a way out.
The three actors cast in the production were perfect for their roles and masterfully directed by Eric Hill. In Homelife, Atkins is given a bit more to do than in Zoo Story, and his character becomes more well-rounded; his dismay that his wife doesn’t see their marriage through the same lens that he does was so well-played and believable, and his monologue about a life-changing event that happened in college was shocking and raw. Additionally, his work in the final moments of Zoo Story was brilliant. Franklin played Ann with caged intensity; she was a woman trapped, wanting something more, even as she realized she wasn’t sure what that was. Collins shied away from the cliché of Jerry – he refused to make him a stereotypical mentally ill person, or scream to show his intensity. His Jerry was layered, inscrutable; just when you thought you had a handle on what he was doing, he’d flip the script and come at it from another angle. He was a wonder to watch, full of energy and fire.
Albee’s themes are timeless, making his work timeless, as well. Peter and Ann can’t connect because they don’t communicate, at least not honestly or in a way understood to one another. Jerry is desperate for someone to understand him, someone to communicate with, someone make a bond with – yet Peter denies him that bond at the very last moment. We all want that connection, that bond with another, that person that understands us – and when it’s denied, we feel something valuable inside ourselves has been lost.
As a whole, the work is about humanity – all of it, the good, the bad, the visceral, the heartbreaking, the disappointments, the surprises, the challenges and losses. Each audience member will take something else away with them when they leave – and Albee’s all-important connection has been made.
“At Home at the Zoo (Zoo story);” Berkshire Theatre Group, 6 East St., Stockbridge, MA; through August 26; $52; Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with a 10-minute intermission; http://www.berkshiretheatregroup.org/