Fri March 20, 2009
At Home at the Zoo, Philadelphia Theater Company
Edward Albee has added a first act to his most famous one-act play, the 1959 The Zoo Story. It tells what happens before Peter meets Jerry on that park bench. Before all hell breaks loose. The author calls his new version: At Home at the Zoo. The Philadelphia Theater Company's production at the Suzanne Roberts Theater is well done and ultimately moving but At Home at The Zoo isn't as powerful as The Zoo Story on its own.
The first, act, Home Life, puts Peter, the textbook editor, and his wife Ann in their Manhattan living room as the couple talk endlessly about their marriage, two daughters, two cats and two parakeets. And, because Ann has brought it up, the hidden things that make them scared or angry. Ann's got agita about what may be missing from their lives. She's having a midlife crisis. A petty one considering this was written post: 9/11, in fact only a year ago. (2008). The couple's examination of their navels, though navels are not exactly what are being examined, is tedious. "I thought we'd agreed we wanted a calm voyage," Peter says of their union. Turns out, Ann wants among other things, more surprise, more animal passion. Susan McKey enacts the character's spoiled confusions very well. If this is soul searching, spare me.
T. Scott Cunningham's Peter is gentle and gently bewildered, a man who withdraws more than he engages. One benefit of the new act: It does reveal Peter's inability to hear his partner. Is this why he's so willing to listen to a stranger? Or is it basic na?vet? and decency? Andrew Polk's sympathetic portrayal of Jerry is a kaleidoscope of emotion. Mary Robinson directs an accomplished trio. The Philadelphia Theater Company's set and lighting look smart. Still: At Home at the Zoo diminishes the power of The Zoo Story.