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theatre review: the zoo story by edward albee

(The Zoo Story L-R: Renato Musolino and Brendan Rock)

A man sits reading a book on a park bench. It’s his bench, his coveted, sunny, Sunday afternoon spot. His name is Peter. He has a wife, two cats, two parakeets, and two daughters. He works at a small publishing house and makes roughly $18,000 a year. How do we know all this? Because Jerry, a stranger, lonely and full of stories, approaches him and starts a conversation.

It all starts with a simple statement: “I’ve been to the zoo.” Jerry (Renato Musolino) shares this information upon entering and seeing Peter, who has been sitting on his bench since the audience entered the Space Theatre. This venue makes you come down to the action, approaching it physically so it can be better approached mentally. Just descending to your seat and seeing Peter (Brendan Rock) waiting for you begins the interaction and orients you to the setting: Central Park in New York, Cassandra Backler’s set illustrating the park and skyline in layers, pop-out book style.

Edward Albee’s first play covers a wide range of topics in its short time span: from money and family to homosexuality and power struggles, and the 60 minutes you spend watching these two men converse will be interesting and diverse. Regardless of subject matter, the real detail of their discourse lies in their attempts to better understand each other, making it difficult to divulge information on content without also revealing too much about the story, which is engaging and, at times, emotionally intense.

Musolino’s Jerry is captivating and alarming, his swinging emotions and occasional outbursts balancing perfectly with a cheerful (if hardened) exterior. High in energy and low in self-respect, Jerry commands attention in a way that gentle, polite Peter never could; yet Rock infuses his mild manners with a cautious nerve, providing a fitting counterpart for Jerry. Both maintain New York accents throughout, an achievement on its own.

It’s interesting to note that this is State Theatre Company’s second consecutive American play, and while this was set in late 1950s New York, it is more engaging and easier to relate to than the current-day previous production. Perhaps this is due to Albee’s deceptively complex script or Catherine Fitzgerald’s direction; in any case, it’s certainly a fascinating production.

We live busy lives these days, but I’d wager you can spare an hour to absorb a funny, charming, and saddening story. The Zoo Story has a short season in Adelaide before it tours South Australia, and is definitely a memorable show. Be sure to catch it before it heads off.

The Zoo Story plays at the Space Theatre until June 4, before touring regional South Australia. Tickets and information available through Bass.

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