The Saline Selection: At Home at the Zoo

Philly Mag veteran Carol Saline on PTC’s latest

Act One: Peter sits on the sofa reading. His wife Ann enters from the kitchen and says, “We should talk.” Eventually, they do — about their successful marriage, their children, and Ann’s previously unspoken desire for Peter to let loose and engage in more unbridled, passionately wild sex.

Act Two: Peter sits on a bench in Central Park, reading. A disquieting stranger walks by, stops and says, “Can we talk?” Eventually, they do, or mostly Jerry the stranger does, and something awful happens.

Within that framework, Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo plumbs the depths of what people need from each other and how they maneuver to get it. The second part of the play was written nearly 50 years ago as the Zoo Story. The first half was written nearly a half-century later because Albee felt the events in the park encounter would make more sense if the audience knew what had preceded them. Together, in this top-drawer production by the Philadelphia Theatre Company, the late and early works meld into a seamless whole and you understand why Albee felt his original Zoo Story was incomplete.

In a recent public forum at the Suzanne Robert’s Theatre, Albee, who is considered by many to be America’s finest living playwright, said he believed people should step beyond the margins of safety now and then and live a little closer to the edge of danger. In this compelling play he explores those themes with his typical razor-sharp dialogue and wit and his keen intellectual meanderings. Unlike many of Albee’s plays, At Home at the Zoo is easily accessible and sends you out of the theatre buzzing with things to talk about. Performed on a spare set where lighting becomes more important than scenery, the three characters are drawn in pitch-perfect performances by two veteran New York actors, T. Scott Cunningham and Andrew Polk, and Philadelphia’s own Susan McKey, all ably directed by Mary Robinson.  For Albee fans, this is a must. For people who don’t know Albee, this is an ideal introduction. For people who don’t like Albee, PTC’s production might well change your opinion.