Among the hazards of updating a theater classic is that behavior that rings true in one era may not in another. But in this first regional pairing of The Zoo Story, a classic Edward Albee one-act from 1958, with Homelife, his 2003 prequel, theatergoers already familiar with the theatrical landmark may be jarred by a lot more than a reference in the older, but now updated, play to Stephen King.
At this Common Ground Theatre twofer, which opened last weekend, the upgraded seating facilities enhanced the show's intimacy. Under Rachel Klem's direction, Jeff Alguire made a diffident Peter, while Rus Hames cast an edgy spell as Peter's nemesis, Jerry. Until, that is, the fateful fight sequence, which we simply didn't buy the night we saw the show. In the 1950s, the events leading to the fight may have been believable, but it seems to strain credulity today. Or is it that this show fails to convince us of the reality in this scene?
Hames takes the directing reins in the evening's second half. In his rendering of Homelife, Hames first cultivates a domestic dread perhaps too subtle to convey Albee's interpersonal angst. Still, by the end, both characters and the audience found themselves in terra incognita. Neither Peter nor his wife, Ann (Klem), has probed beneath the veneer of their married contentment, and Albee wants us to sense the possibility of an abyss there. Ann worries the edges of it, teasing—but never fully spelling out—with details of a late-night crisis scenario. That hypothetical ultimately provokes a real-life recounting that, through Alguire's superb interpretation, leaves the couple changed—and us just a bit astonished.
In both one-acts, two animals share the same cage. One's a lot less happy than the other. In each, one character ultimately demands an intimacy the other doesn't seem able to provide. Unexpected consequences happen as a result.
It's been said we go to the zoo to see ourselves in a mirror. Even with metaphorical smudges, these dark reflections at Common Ground are worth consulting.