The human animal
The Zoo Story
Reno, NV 89512
In a stunning, opening-night performance of The Zoo Story, the two-man cast of Edward Albee’s classic one-act play delivered an unforgettable, flawless look into the sudden, violent vignette between two strangers in Central Park.
Die-hard devotees of the thee-ah-tuh won’t find any spoilers here—just an affirmative, all-encompassing urge to see for themselves not simply theater for theater’s sake, but intimate, dramatic theater at its finest.
The original artwork on the walls of the Studio on 4th is a perfect metaphor for what owner-operator Mike Steedman and the tight-knit artistic community of the space—set with about 55 chairs for The Zoo Story—intended for this little gem, as well as what director Sandra Brunell facilitates with Albee’s timeless story. Keep a keen eye on the Studio on 4th—its creative forces and forthcoming work are worth watching, and Zoo Story viewers are likely to be so instantly captured, captivated and imbued by the playwright’s Jerry (Tom Plunkett) and Peter (Dave Anderson), and these fine actors’ interpretations, they may forget they’re attending a play.
Written in 1958, The Zoo Story was initially rejected by the New York City theatrical community. Instead, the play debuted in September 1959 to critical acclaim in West Berlin, Germany. American producers sunk their teeth into it, and the play ultimately premiered in the States in 1960. The idiosyncratic foibles, heartaches, strengths and weaknesses of Peter and Jerry—portrayed to the hilt by, respectively, Anderson and Plunkett—are brilliantly brought to the spotlight in their exchange.
Peter, a publishing executive with a wife, two daughters, two cats, two parakeets and an obscene annual salary of $200K, is a passive/aggressive man obliviously buffered by his own affluence.
In contrast, the self-actualized Jerry is struggling to obtain the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter as he battles borderline mental health and identity issues, his slipping status in mainstream society and his landlady’s dog. The latter—a canine with a perpetual erection—is Jerry’s analogy for his placement in life. He confesses to Peter his homosexual encounters as a 15-year-old years earlier, how both his parents are dead and the reasons why his two picture frames remain empty.
“Why did you tell me all this?” Peter implores as Jerry’s thinly-veiled anecdote about the dog unravels into a long-repressed tirade, vividly illustrated in Albee’s genius dialogue, delivered by Jerry: “If you can’t deal with people, you have to make a start somewhere!”
“Why not?” Jerry counters.
“I don’t understand!” fumes Peter, his tolerance and patience imploding.
From Jerry’s perspective, their Sunday afternoon, park-bench chance encounter is “a beginning of an understanding,” yet, in traditional, climactic fashion, there exists symbolic destruction. As Plunkett delves into an impressive, minutes-long lamentation—the depth of which belies the cast’s three-week rehearsal—Albee’s own voice echoes in the solitary question, “Are these the things men fight for, Peter?” Anderson’s silent acquiescence should be neither overlooked nor underestimated—it’s an essential element that balances Plunkett’s admonishment to the enemy his character befriends: “We have to know the effects of our actions.”
The Studio on 4th’s production of The Zoo Story leaves no nuance unexplored in terms of its impact once the houselights fade. Brunell, Plunkett and Anderson absolutely shine in the silk-purse-from-a-sow’s-ear endeavor that fulfill’s Albee’s unsung masterpiece.
Costuming is a lone note of dissention: for a man who identifies himself as “a permanent transient,” Jerry’s T-shirt is perhaps a bit too stain- and wrinkle-free, a minute detail that shouldn’t distract, detract or deter. Get a ticket. Go. You won’t be disappointed.