Edward Albee is the man. He was my gateway drug into modern theater. When I read The Zoo Story in high school, it almost convinced me to go to Rice because that’s where Albee was teaching at the time. Rice. In Texas. Texas, people. Where the weather is hot and where our President picked up that phony accent. And we all know how I feel about hot weather and our President.
Anyway, a few years ago, Albee wrote a lead-in play for The Zoo Story called Homelife. It covers the hour or so Peter spends with his wife at home before he goes to the park and meets Jerry. Homelife and The Zoo Story are up as a double bill at Second Stage in New York and, if you can, you should go. They close this weekend, so you’ll have to get on the stick quickly.
Oh – and avoid a matinee if at all possible. I didn’t manage that and was subject to a long line of horrifying, substantial matrons waiting for the bathroom and saying things like, “Well, that was strange,” “What happened?” and, “We can talk about it in the cab.” I know these women are the life’s blood of the theater – they like an afternoon out and the play’s the thing – but Lord save me. Also, these women take forever to pee, with their wraps to unwrap and girdles and jackets and pantyhose. So help me God, when I am 70, I will be trim and quick and wear excellent, bold jewelry, swish pants and well-cut sweaters.
The Zoo Story is just as good as it’s always been and the acting is top-notch. Dallas Roberts* carries the day with a pitch-perfect, insistent Jerry. He threatens and sulks and dodges around the minimal set looking scruffy and sad and frightening all at once. It’s a performance to remember. Bill Pullman as Peter is appropriately conventional and nervous and uses his long stretches of silence to good effect.
I can understand why Albee wrote Homelife. The subjects of The Zoo Story – alienation, artifice, failures of communication – attract expansion, as does the nearly silent character of Peter. Despite very good performances by both Pullman and Johanna Day, the execution felt too explicative, which seems to be a feature of the aging male, onstage and off. The pauses in the conversations between the married couple felt more like failing momentum than breakdowns laden with meaning. However, I was glad to have seen the piece and it is still a far stretch better than a lot of what’s out there.
(A day later, I talked to a young actor who had seen the show and thought the reverse – that The Zoo Story was the weaker link and Homelife a triumph. He was by far the most pretentious person I have met in the last few months however, so I’m sticking with my opinion. Perhaps it’s a guy thing, this preoccupation with bringing the point home. I’ll have to think about that one…)
*Google would have us know that Dallas Roberts is also the name of an Academy of Hair Design and Aesthetics in Provo, Utah. In case you look up Dallas, let me remind you that I am referring not to the hair design but to the actor. Despite being preoccupied with Aesthetics, the Academy does not feature in this production.