Written in 1958, "The Zoo Story" is the first play of consequence written by Edward Albee, the absurdist American playwright who later won fame for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?". This short, one act play was first performed in Berlin, Germany, on September 28, 1959 at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt.
"The Zoo Story" concerns two middle-aged men: Peter, a typical, nondescript family man, and Jerry, the enigmatic focus of the play's hilarious and terrifying action. The two meet in Central Park, where Peter sits quietly reading a book. Jerry intrusively engages Peter in conversation, asking questions that become progressively more rude, penetrating, and bizarre. With Kafkaesque absurdity, Jerry's pointed, seemingly malicious interrogation of Peter and his surreal confessions push the two men inexorably toward a destructive climax. Like Kafka's work, the play examines the plight of people alienated from humanity and unable to relate to other human beings.
The dark humor and emotional force of the play are remarkable. I have not yet seen it performed—though I am going to see it soon—but the text itself carries amazing power. Any actor playing Jerry will have to be incredibly fantastic; his character is very nuanced, embodying both subtlety and ferocity at the same time, and even from the point of view of memorization, his character will be a challenge. Peter's character's lines are all extremely short, while Jerry's character has many long monologues, including "THE STORY OF JERRY AND THE DOG!", which is six and a half pages long.
Read/see this play NOW.
I have now seen the play performed, and sadly, I cannot say that I was incredibly impressed. The actor who played Jerry seemed stiff and mostly lifeless—boring during his less intense scenes and seeming almost like a caricature during his explosions. The actor playing Peter, however, was quite compelling even as a straight man. His character was, of course, easier to relate to, and his emotions seemed more genuine than Jerry's. I found reading the play to be much more meaningful and revelatory than seeing it performed, though I hope I just saw the play on a bad night.