Review "At Home At The Zoo": Attacks with Brutal Humor

Victory Gardens Theater presents


At Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln
Written by Edward Albee
Directed by Dennis Zacek
Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays at 3pm
Thru October 31st
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours includes a fifteen minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Which is worse:  being told by a loved one that ‘we need to talk’ or being asked by a stranger, ‘can we talk?’?  Victory Gardens Theater presents the Chicago premiere of AT HOME AT THE ZOO by multiple award-winning playwright Edward Albee.  The second act of this show was Albee’s 1959 creation originally entitled “Peter and Jerry” and later renamed “The Zoo Story.”  The play launched Albee’s theatre career.  Fifty years later, Albee decides to finish what he started by adding a prequel entitled “Homelife.”  Together, the two acts form a glimpse at the life of a self-contained New Yorker.  Peter publishes textbooks for a living.  His wife interrupts his reading routine for conversation.  Reluctantly, Peter tries to ‘really talk’ with Ann on her desired personal level.  Her disclosure forces him to reveal his own deep, dark secret.  The uncomfortable intimacy sends him running… to the zoo.  On a bench in Central Park, Peter resumes his reading affair.  His solace is broken by a stranger.  Jerry asks Peter to make his acquaintance.  Peter agrees to a little surface banter with a stranger.  Jerry’s lunacy dogs Peter into a crazy rage.  The emotionally heated exchange sends Peter running… to home.   What’s scarier: ‘losing it’ in front of a stranger or a spouse?  For fifty years, Albee fans have been waiting for the back story on Peter and here it is.  AT HOME AT THE ZOO goes beyond the daily chit-chat to unlock the caged animal inside.   Sometimes, confinement protects man and sometimes, it makes him a target!  AT HOME AT THE ZOO attacks with brutal humor.     

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Albee doesn’t stick to the weather.  He penned dialogue covering a range of impolite conversation.  His topics go gritty with bloody anal sex, penis foreskin, and dog erections.  Dennis Zacek directs the action with plenty of room for awkward pauses between the married couple.  Waiting the extra beats for a well-placed ‘what?’, Zacek adds very relatable listening shortcuts.  Tom Amandes (Peter) is the mild-mannered guy attracting the crazies.  First, he married one.  Annabel Armour (Anne) is kooky hilarious.  Armour pokes Amandes with a stick to see if he’ll bite.  Her lines are delivered as organic ‘fly by night’ thoughts.  Nothing Armour says or does seem rehearsed.  Her improv style heightens Amandes’ orderly methodology.  Zacek picks up the pace in the second act with a jittery, high energy Marc Grapey (Jerry).  Grapey tells a story within a story in 3-D animation.  He captivates the audience with his lively narration.  Regularly, he blurts out a ’cause I’m crazy’ reminder.  The abrupt interruption in the monologue flow brings hysterical laughter.  Through it all, Amandes plays the straight guy with amicability.  When he finally releases his inner hound, Amandes is absurd in an illogical

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AT HOME AT THE ZOO has been en route to Chicago since 1959.  Victory Gardens celebrates its arrival with an entertaining production that makes you reconsider how well you listen and what confines you.    What?  But pay attention to what I’m saying right now, despite the title, this play is not for younger zoo enthusiasts.  In this era of distractibility, unaware parents could really scare their kids this Halloween season.  

Uncomfortably squirming during the home invasion, Cridlin describes the show with ‘better second half.’

Production photos courtesy of LIz Lauren.

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