Edward Albee has been called the greatest American playwright. Although fans of Arthur Miller might disagree, there is no doubt that any production of an Albee play immediately evokes choruses of praise for the depth of its underlying meanings.
To experience these, New World Arts theater in Goshen is offering two of Albee’s one act plays, “Homelife” and “Zoo Story,” now presented as a two-act play, “At Home at the Zoo,” even though written 45 years apart. The group presented a spectacular production of Albee’s most famous work, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in a past season. The plays here are more oblique and, set on director Samuel Yoder’s spare black and white set design, even more emotionally stark
The 1959 “Zoo Story” brought acclaim and instant praise to Albee, hailed as master of the new school of theatrical realism. Putting the dramatic cart before the horse, “Homelife,” (the first act) was commissioned in 2003, allowing it to become a full production.
Yoder’s program note says the two plays are often called “plays about nothing” or “plays where nothing happens.” Not exactly true in the final act, but definitely the questions raised in the dialogue between Peter (Alec Hipshear) and his wife Ann (Adrienne Nesbitt) are initially as bland and boring as the textbook Peter is editing. Ann insists “We need to talk,” and talk they do about sex, class, fidelity (or the lack thereof), fantasies and the ultimate insufficiency of just about everything.
As emotions escalate, Peter takes his work to the park where he encounters Jerry (Mike Honderich), who has been to the zoo and stops to ask Peter questions saying “I like to get to know people.” Prowling the area like a caged animal, Jerry succeeds in pushing Peter off the bench and pours out an endless diatribe including “the story of Jerry and the dog” (a large angry animal belonging to his landlady), his walk “all the way up Fifth Avenue” and his search for “a way of dealing with life.” Peter listens in almost total silence until his efforts to remove himself from the increasingly violent situation result in a shocking finale.
Nesbitt and Honderich are the most volatile characters, and the latter is increasingly mesmerizing as his rantings escalate wildly. Hipshear is appropriately silent, rising to respond to late.
There are many laughs in this dark comedy, but we still left looking for the answers.
“AT HOME AT THE ZOO” will be presented at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Feb. 25-26 in the theater at 211 S. Main St. in Goshen. Entrance and parking from Third Street. Tickets on sale at the door.