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Sparks fly when a have-not lashes out

Citizen Staff Writer



Can a play about social tensions of 50 years ago still engage us today? Edward Albee wrote “The Zoo Story” in 1958, creating an off-Broadway sensation with his insistence that trouble was lurking beneath the glowing optimism of those Fabulous Fifties.

Economic inequalities were percolating as television screens popped up everywhere and sophisticated advertising techniques hooked their messages into an innocent public psyche. People who had no material wealth were suddenly reminded of their empty lives by the visions of plenty on every one of those flickering TV screens. It was not a good feeling.

Seeing themselves as losers in a land of plenty, these economically underprivileged had no place to go. Shut out by a lack of education, without the means to participate in this new materialism, they felt shut out.

Or shut in. They were caged up like those animals in the zoo, kept away from the mainstream, looked at from a distance by those who were more prosperous.

If Albee would write this one-act, 50-minute play of confrontation between today’s haves and have-nots, racial tension would be an essential part. These days, life seemed so simple 50 years ago. There were no race riots, no rampant drug use. Marriage still had sanctity. Everyone genuinely believed America was the greatest country in the world. The thrill of victory in World War II was still fresh in the air.

Those Freedom Riders in Mississippi? They were college kids making the country better by encouraging everyone to get out the vote. Or so it seemed.

We can see all this in the clean-cut production of “The Zoo Story” in Rogue Theatre’s new late-night series of shows presented in association with The Now Theatre. Chelsea Bowdren has directed a straightforward performance that makes no judgment calls.

Nic Adams in shiny shoes and a sleeveless sweater, plays Peter, the staunchly middle-class man proud of his accomplishments in earning a respectable living and providing for his respectable family. John Shartzer is Jerry, the intuitive street hustler who survives in a world of transients by using his passive-aggressive personality to intimidate those who are less secure.

In a more equal world, Jerry could have been a slick salesman applying devious skills to sell any of the amazing new products that poured out of the country’s inventive imagination.

Only, that didn’t happen. Jerry knows he’s a bright guy, but keeps bumping his head against the underside of life. By the time we see him onstage, the frustration has been growing for years.

Like a suicide bomber, he wants revenge. He wants to hurt this cruel society that keeps him caged up like the once-proud lions of Africa’s plains trapped in a zoo. Jerry wants to do some damage and is willing to give up his own life to do that.

But first Jerry must find his victim. He will pick one carefully who represents all the middle-class values Jerry longs to have.

Back in the 1950s, men had comfortable homes and loving families. They earned the money and the wives spent it wisely. Each man belonged someplace, had a warm place to go at the end of each day.

Jerry doesn’t have any of that. Carefully he approaches Peter sitting alone on a green bench on a warm Sunday afternoon in Central Park. Carefully, Jerry makes sure Peter does indeed have such a family – and the household pets who are an extension of the animals in the zoo.

In the beginning Peter is proud of his accomplishments. He puffs up politely in describing his executive job and his lovely family. Too late, Peter realizes these very accomplishments have marked him for trouble with Jerry.


What: Now Theatre presents “The Zoo Story” by Edward Albee

When: 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays through Feb. 7

Where: Cabaret Theatre in the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave.

Price: $10, $5 discount when also purchasing a ticket to Rogue Theatre’s “Orlando”

Info: 551-2053, theroguetheatre.org

Grade: B-

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