Saturday 25 January 2020

John McKeown

TheatreThe Zoo StorySmock Alley Theatre

In Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, the spectacularly tempestuous confrontation between the antipathetic couple does at least result in a kind of exhausted unity. But, in this Albee's first short play, the gulf between the two protagonists is all but impassable.

Peter, a New York publishing executive, is enjoying a read on a sunny Sunday afternoon on a secluded park bench in Central Park. His bookish idyll is interrupted by Jerry, a self-described 'permanent transient' who abruptly informs him that he's been to the zoo. He goes on enlightening the perplexed Peter with his life in a tenement, liberally larded with colourful anecdotes and lurid highlights from his unfortunate past.

Jerry saves his 'zoo story' until the last, working himself up to it through the story of 'Jerry and the Dog,' which involves his attempt to reach an understanding with his landlady's aggressive pet by killing it with kindness, or failing that "just killing it."

The dog story and all its details - the buying of hamburger meat, the 'equal weight' of rat poison, his repugnant landlady and her "sweaty lust" for his person - are parts of an ascending arc of intensity in Clide Delaney's robust performance as Jerry.

His whole raw, uncooked diatribe has the desperate edge of a last confessional fling by one of America's losers, a last stab at bridging the uncrossable divide between man and man. Mind you, there's nothing idealistic or high-flown about it, and Jerry, though highly expressive and bleakly entertaining, is more unpleasantly self-centred than his fellow citizens.

Delaney's performance is the major contributor to David Butler's satisfyingly potent production for Amigos Theatre Company. It's a pity he didn't coax a stronger performance from Marclos Isla, playing Peter. Jerry, with the lion's share of dialogue, dominates the play, and Peter has to make his few lines more than left-over scraps.

Peter does eventually show real teeth at the violent climax, but prior to this there's no real sense of the social gulf between the two, and no sense of an internal struggle as he engages with Jerry.

But overall Albee's main concerns in his theatrically uncompromising, absurd theatre-influenced duologue come across successfully. Particularly the sense of alienation and the chaotic, tragic arbitrariness of life, evoked through Jerry. And crucially the hovering image of the zoo is brought into sharper focus at the play's end. Where are the bars? And who are the animals?

John McKeown

Irish Independent

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