A Melbournian who wonders as I wander. I have spent a lot of life colouring in moments and take great pleasure in creative expression of experience. Interested in Design, Art, Film, Photography, Painting and all things French.
Be confronted, unsettled is superior to complacent
Edward Albee's name did not mean anything to me. My only solid preconception was that it was set in New York and was perhaps controversial.
Now I have Wikipedia'd my theatre expertise to a higher level, I am glad to have discovered more context after my first viewing. I do believe this would be a play best seen twice. There is universalism in the philosophical nature of the character's discussion but once it is finished, you are left musing for more elaboration. It is like when you see Mulholland Drive, you don't want to spend the rest of your days in that migraine of needing to get what was it truly about.
The Zoo is not quite so vague and unsatisfying as that, but it is dense with connotation.
The Alex Theatre was established by Aleksandar Hass. Actor, Writer, Producer and Businessman, he redeveloped the old George Cinemas to provide a non-commercial space for meaningful off-Broadway style production.
The Alex Theatre is really easy to find. On Fitzroy St, near the restaurants buzzing with life and beachy night atmosphere, its signage reaches out. You mount some carpeted stairs and it has the feel of an upmarket cinema or theatre. The foyer is plush with interesting statues. We immediately felt that this was a significant experience.
Now I understand more about Edward Albee, I realise how crucial his life experience is to the subtext. The age of the play, I felt no hint of in this adaptation. Perhaps this reveals how timeless such questions raised and left hanging really are. The play was written in 1958, in just three weeks. Resonant is that fever of inspiration and giving voice to life's alienation. I think the play encapsulates the author's catharsis.
Edward Albee was given up for adoption at birth. His relationship with his adoptive parents and ability to find significant meaning and belonging in their wealthy world translates into the characterisation.
This adaptation of The Zoo is something a Melbourne audience is privileged to experience. Fifty years after his initial inspiration, Albee gave into the nagging sensation more elaboration was needed. He revised the original into a two-act play called Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo. He disallowed production of the original by professional theatre companies. Perhaps this has changed since his death? In seeing The Zoo, we are seeing the energy of his initial inspiration without years of perfecting the communication. So often what rings clear and true is purest in its first realisation.
When entering the theatre, I was once again impressed by how the simplest objects are needed to take you to another place. The set design included two picnic chairs and a backdrop of New York.
The ambience is actualised by the actor's characterisation of accent, combined with appropriate music your feet cannot help but tap to. The actor's clothes further support the impression and perhaps this was the only clue it was set back in time. This and the trust the character Peter gives the approaching character of Jerry to continue the conversation he initiates. The play is all about this conversation. In our modern world, I cannot imagine that Peter would have felt safe enough when meeting an unpredictable (albeit charming) stranger in New York, to talk to him.
It is very important this play is set in New York as it is intrinsic to their worldview and assumptions about one another. Made loud is the idea of the American Dream and lack of ability to understand the difficulty's that make it impossible for certain sections of society to attain it.
All the questions in Albee's play have come to a head in our society, Traditional concepts of marriage and relationships have been upturned and the gap between the rising homeless population and the wealthy is painstakingly clear. I'd love to know how many of the audience left still a Peter, unable to understand the constant and exhausting babble of Jerry.
Peter's blind complacency is a suffocating attitude that makes Jerry's eventual, increasingly provoking manner understandable. Perhaps on reflection, I can see now the inevitability of the events that Jerry admits he did not, yet must have planned.
In the end, this play is calling for the audience to unsettle themselves and examine humanity and the need for true empathy and a meaningful connection. Peter will never understand Jerry but the audience might leave more open and respectful of worlds and existence foreign to their life experience. Maybe class segregation and all war do boil down to defending ownership of a park bench.
The play's material is rich but it is how it is handled that keeps the audience gripped on every word. Dennis Manahan, performance of Jerry had me on the edge of my seat. I left aghast at how he could maintain that amount of compelling intensity. His charm puts the audience all in the place of Peter. He establishes the suspense of The Zoo well. Want to know what happened at The Zoo? You will have to visit this production to find out. As you find out, you can marvel at how brilliantly Manahan builds this three-dimensional unpredictable character who becomes increasingly menacing. Every story he tells is painted so powerfully that it reels in your mind as a technicolour film.
Steven Carroll's performance makes the perfect counter to Manahan's intensity, in his laidback tolerance of his unwanted companion. You can see the life he describes has settled effectively into his habits and idiosyncrasies. You feel with him that painful frustration of having to navigate unwanted conversation without causing offence.
He holds your sympathy well until the final moments when his lack of graciousness brings to the forefront that battle all humanity has, the morality of ownership and sharing with others. Carroll brought to the performance a sense of America with his solid accent and wry manner.
Please do not miss this opportunity to see this play. It will leave your mind throbbing with philosophical conflict. It's an opportunity to stop yourself short of closing your ears to what really matters. To come to see The Zoo is to come to listen. Hopefully, Jerry's meaningful conversation will not be something misunderstood.