BY JEFF LEVENE
Uncaging the vicious most rabid of emotions and letting them escape from the societal bars holding them in place, director Robert Fuson unleashes Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story” in a fittingly savage delivery presented by the Inaugural Class of The Warehouse Theatre Conservatory.
A longtime pillar of 20th century theatre, the one-act “The Zoo Story” unveils a gleefully barbaric look into the human condition, offering both a hopeless outlook of a commercially vegetized society, against the joyous realization of a brutal equally horrific humanity laying underneath. And all of this is discovered during a conversation on a NYC park bench between a rambling lunatic, Jerry (Chris Smith), and quiet middle-class book publisher, Peter (Ryan Barry).
Albee has been no stranger to revisiting his script, and actually added a Second Act set and a another character years after the one-act grew to popularity. Still, many, including myself, prefer it as a solo act work, and Fuson’s orchestration of the raw insanity interspersed with unexpected fragility further cement me in my opinions.
Whether it’s Jerry’s timely aggressive snarls or Peter’s growing desperation and wild actions, Fuson directs the play’s action to a fulfilling and fittingly abrupt end. Add to this Fuson’s decision to perform in the round, allowing him to capitalize actively caging the actors as an exhibit, and putting audience members inches from the ravenous Jerry.
Smith gives a solid performance as Jerry, making sure to laugh at each off hand irony and joke, or choke up at the neutered state of the world, all sometimes within the same line. He is also able to switch his demeanor in an instant. Smith makes us believe him when he angrily bullies Peter off the bench, only seconds later to don his jacket civilly and give a Popeye chuckle as he tests Peter’s pipe.
And while some of his earlier scenes are a bit repetitious running a track of similar emotions, tones and exchanges in tension, Smith’s delivery of Jerry’s infamous dog monologue offers an eccentric build that tops his heart-wrenching inability to fully communicate his emotions and experiences to a horrified and confused Peter.
Polar opposite and resolute, Barry’s Peter offers the audience the perfect eyes through which to experience the madness. On stage ten minutes before the show begins, Barry quietly sifts through a Stephen King novel, never really paying any attention, identifying himself with those watching his actions later. Barry capitalizes on Peter’s quick descent into an angry feral state, desperately attempting to reclaim his manhood and dignity, all the while falling into appropriately dorky and out of place stances or tantrums.
Also impressive is the fight choreography from Thomas Azar, capturing the absurdity of a tickle fight, to the brutality of a childish squabble turned brawl.
Staying true to what has made The Zoo Story such a paragon of 20th century theatre, Fuson’s adaptation capitalizes on Albee’s juxtapositions, as his two actors adeptly capture the battle between our passionate animalistic cores with a society working so hard to sterilize us into indifference, which is sure to leave you looking at the bars trapping us in our own lives.
“The Zoo Story” continues May 17, 22 & 24 at 8 p.m. at The Warehouse Theatre, 37 Augusta Street in Greenville. $10 Admission. Call (864) 235-6948 or visit http://www.warehousetheatre.com