As the lights come up on Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, now making a short run at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, we find ourselves privy to the long-time friendly dissociation that defines the marriage of Peter and Ann. Safe in his easy chair, Peter is immersed in what he calls “the most boring book ever published,” as Ann is trying, a bit vainly, to communicate.
“We should talk,” she says — from the kitchen.
At Home at the Zoo is Albee’s unnecessary rewrite of his 1958 debut drama, first produced when he was 29, The Zoo Story.
The original is a one-act play with two characters: Peter, a tweedy publishing executive, and Jerry, a human tornado of not-quite-certifiable madness, whom Peter encounters one day in Central Park.
The original play drew praise for its sharply drawn portrait of alienation in mid-20th-century America.
Albee decided it needed more work. He wrote another one-act, a prequel titled Homelife, as a standalone production. Premiering in 2004, it later became the first act, with the original Zoo Story as the second, of the full-length drama that you can now see at OCT.
Trouble is, Homelife, under any title, doesn’t really add much to the sharp if flawed perfection of Zoo Story. Peter remains a one-dimensional sketch of a character, a simple quiet foil to Jerry’s disturbing but perceptive madness. Giving him a wife doesn’t add anything. It’s the same play, now twice as long.
Is At Home at the Zoo a failed play? Yes.
So should you see it?
Albee isn’t about plot and character, but about sharp perception and exquisitely beautiful language. (No one watches his scathing 1962 masterpiece, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for the plot.)
At OCT Craig Willis directs a tight, minimal production — he’s also scenic designer — that’s perfect for the play.
The three actors carry Albee’s cerebral story with driving energy. Kelly Oristano shines as Jerry, slathering the role with sweetly overbearing menace. Trust me, no one wants to meet Oristano’s Jerry on a park bench.
Dan Pegoda plays Peter — a challenging, passive role — with perfect frump, and Kari Boldon Welch, as Ann, sizzles as she tries to talk to her husband about sex, setting up Albee’s pat explanation for Peter’s repression.
In the end, Albee’s critique of society in 1958 applies astonishingly well today, six decades later. We are still not talking to one another, and we still fear meeting truth in the guise of an unpredictable ruffian.
Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo runs weekends through Nov. 11 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre. Tickets and info at OCTheatre.org.