By any definition, Edward Albee’s aboriginal comedy is chilling.
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In “The Zoo Story” (written by Albee in three weeks in 1958, aloof shy of his 30th birthday), the admirable adept of irony and acrimony is arena with the audience’s faculty of civility, aloof as the scruffy, blowing vagrant, Jerry (Francis Gercke), is aggravating to agitate and agitate cultivated, conceited Peter (Phil Johnson).
It all takes abode on a bank in Central Park. Peter, a married, high common man with a acceptable job and a ancestors (a wife, two daughters, two bodies and two parakeets), is spending a brilliant Sunday afternoon, as he so generally does, abandoned (escaping the babel and apathy of his life), affably account a book.
Along comes Jerry — and a nerve-jangling calamity ensues. Both lives are penetratingly advised and angry inside-out.
Jerry begins a chat — added like an interrogation/nonstop address — by announcing, “I’ve aloof been to the zoo.” Peter doesn’t alike apprehend the animadversion is addressed to him.
Over the advance of the more intense, harrowing, affecting 55 minutes, we apprentice that both are loners of a arrangement — one appetite compassionate and interaction, the added absent some private, quiet time.
Peter gets drawn, sucked, abject into Jerry’s apple — a low-end, boardinghouse/tenement afoot existence, abounding with a abrupt dog, a “disgusting” brawny landlady, a brow-tweezing annoyance queen — and said cruise to the Central Esplanade Zoo.
Jerry keeps able to acquaint what happened at the zoo, but he withholds the advice till the alarming end.
The zoo is a allegory for the behind-bars, caged-in absoluteness of all humans, and the beastly in all of us, lying aloof below the surface, but calmly teased out at the aboriginal blackmail or affront — although some of us, like Peter, assume to alive a activity of cruel isolation, bedfast to our own little world.
But whether he responds with condescension, backbone or elite oblige, absolutely how abundant is a man like Peter declared to abide the assailment of a man like Jerry? What would you do in his position?
Jerry, the ultimate outsider, has the high duke here: he taunts, he teases, he baits, he atrociously tickles, he alike attacks Peter’s manhood: he smokes a pipe, instead of cigarettes; he’s clumsy to aftermath a son; he’s henpecked.
The action escalates on assorted levels. but all the while he’s advancement a position of dominance. Peter, anxiously controlled and complacent at the outset, devolves, aloof as Jerry predicted, into a angry animal.
In this bitter confrontation, Albee underscores the meaninglessness of life, one of the amount credo of Absurdist philosophy/Theatre of the Absurd.
Despite actuality one of the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner’s best-known works, the comedy is not frequently produced. San Diego Actors Theatre army a delectable, admitting short-lived, assembly aftermost abatement — in an absolute park, which aloft the affecting stakes alike higher, as passersby sauntered over to see what was activity on.
Sometimes, in this fierce, acute interaction, our own ache — like Peter’s — ability accomplish us appetite to airing off, too, not to accountable ourselves to the assured adversity to come.
But Peter stays, and we stay, and things do booty that adamant bottomward plunge.
Every time I see and assay the play, I get new insights into its depth, complication and close construction.
In the new assembly by three year-old Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company (just alleged the 2018-2019 La Jolla Playhouse Theatre in Residence), I was addled by the Biblical symbology at the end.
It’s accessible to appearance this as a parable, with Jerry as agonize (a man in his aboriginal 30s, amateur for Jesus), and Peter as a adherent (of sorts), a man depicted in the New Testament as affable but firm, loyal, but additionally adventurous and hasty, annoyed and able of abundant anger. Peter rebuked Jesus, and was rebuked by him.
“I came unto you,” Jerry says abreast the end of the play, in definitively Biblical accent for a avant-garde city-dweller. “And you comforted me.” Both men again adjure God at the end, whether actually or ironically (each one’s final words are “Oh my God”). But there’s little abundance actuality for anyone — appearance or observer.
Some accept alleged the allotment a avant-garde chastity play, about animal isolation.
Surely, there is a abundant accord about loneliness, and the adversity of absolutely communicating or connecting. Jerry keeps aggravating — and failing. Peter is his aftermost hope.
Jerry and Peter: one, relentless; the added reluctant, again resistant, assuredly bargain to a age-old scream.
They’re never in balance, partly because of their all-inclusive educational, occupational, marital, age and socio-economic bisect — a abysm too abysmal and advanced to bridge.
The accommodation is unmistakable, in these canicule of massive budgetary inequality, accompanying with abhorrence and abstention of those who are “different” in any way.
With accomplished performers and a able administrator (Rosina Reynolds), the Backyard assembly (on Diversionary Theatre’s mainstage) is superb.
Gercke’s Jerry, barmy with acrimony and acerbity at the world, vibrates with avidity and relentlessness. His eyes are piercing, menacing.
Johnson’s Peter shows avoidance, antipathy and ultimately, terror. An all-embracing arrangement of affections plays beyond Johnson’s adaptable face (he almost gets a chat in). As the astriction mounts, he regresses to baby territoriality.
But back it comes to ability and physicality, this is not an alike arena field. It’s a berserk bold of cat-and-mouse, predator and prey, a action — to the afterlife — for ability and control.
The catastrophe is shocking. And with this akin of expertise, acuteness and ferocity, it’s abiding to leave you puzzling, delving, absorption — and maybe alike a little shell-shocked.
Pat Launer, a affiliate of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a adept San Diego arts biographer and an Emmy Award-winning amphitheater critic. An annal of her previews and reviews can be begin at patlauner.com.
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