The Zoo Story – Chaplins Bar – Review

The Zoo Story – Chaplins Bar – Review
Review by Frank L.

Until May 20th – Dates and details here.

The Zoo Story – Written by Edward Albee
Produced by Judder Theatre Company

Edward Albee wrote the Zoo Story in 1958. It was his first play. Its action is centred on a single bench in a park in New York. For this production the action is transposed to Dublin and the bench is somewhere in the vicinity of the zoo. In the intimate upstairs room over Chaplin’s pub, the simple set consists of a park bench against the backdrop of a large black curtain.

Peter (Stephen Kelly) is sitting on the bench minding his own business reading a book. He is unremarkably dressed and appears prosperous enough. Jerry (Vincent Patrick) saunters past looking down at heel. He is alone. He wants to engage in conversation. Through a series of stratagems, he gradually engages with Peter who reluctantly reveals something of his background which is predictable enough: married, two daughters, two cats and somewhat surprisingly two parakeets. He is a publisher of educational books. Even if this information is prised from Peter it is sufficient for Jerry to recount, in some considerable detail, his own living arrangements which are very different. He lives in a partitioned room in a house which could be described as a multiple dwelling. The other inhabitants provide a rich cast of characters for Jerry to depict. While they are the central core of his daily life his contact with each is limited. Jerry’s very existence is that of an outsider. Most of the time Peter’s contribution is that of a passive listener. However, that alters when Jerry decides to sit on the bench and intrude into Peter’s physical space. The encounter then takes on a different dynamic.

The two characters epitomise the stark difference in the circumstances between someone who is successful in financial terms in society and someone who lives on the margin of society. Albee’s script brings that chasm into clear view. It is an intense encounter during which Jerry does most of the talking. It is a challenging role which Patrick makes credible. While his delivery draws you into the loneliness of his existence, the repetitive movement of his right arm and hand over his shoulder after a while became a distraction. On the other hand, it could be indicative of someone whose social exclusion had given rise to a physical manifestation. He is a man who does not fit the world in which he finds himself. Peter’s role is a passive one until the end and there is little in the script to reveal what are his innermost thoughts and fears or what makes him tick. Kelly has the tricky task of being a reluctant listener. It is in its passivity a difficult challenge which Kelly did not at all times appear to be at ease with.

It is valuable to see Albee’s first play, especially in the light of his subsequent successful career as a playwright not least with “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” It depicts in stark terms someone who is excluded by society.  It lasts just under an hour and it provides valuable food for thought while you can enjoy a drink at the same time.

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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