Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Palm Beach DramaWorks: At Home At The Zoo (5 reviews)

Palm Beach DramaWorks concludes its 9th season with the regional premiere of Edward Albee's At Home At the Zoo, which adds a first act to his classic one-act play, Zoo Story.

The production opened on April 24th in West Palm Beach. William Hayes directs a cast that includes Todd Allen Durkin, Margery Lowe, and Christopher Swan.

Set Design by Michael Amico, Costumes by Brian O'Keefe, lighting by Ginny Adams, and sound design by Steve Shapiro.

Kevin D. Thompson finally got sent out to review for the Palm Beach Post; my browser only seized up twice loading the page.
Good dramatic theater should engage your mind while making you dissect what you saw long after the final curtain calls have been taken.

Palm Beach Dramaworks prides itself on staging shows that do just that. And the small West Palm Beach theater company has done it again with At Home at the Zoo
With the addition of the first act, Zoo, skillfully directed by Producing Artistic Director William Hayes, is essentially two different plays. The show starts off slow (mirroring the lukewarm marriage) ... But by the time the second act rolls around, the show takes a decidedly dark turn and simmers with intensity, passion and rage.
Swan portrays Peter with the right amount of emotional restraint and Lowe is excellent as the long-suffering wife whose toothy smile belies her inner discontent. But it’s Durkin who will command your attention in a bravura performance that will leave you both mesmerized and in awe. He’s one of the most talented local theater actors working today.
Hap Erstein reviewed for the Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
Well, the company proves again -- not that it was ever in doubt -- that The Zoo Story is a remarkable, concise, powerful piece of writing with a role that a resourceful actor such as Durkin can have a proverbial field day with. As to the new first half, to quote Gertrude Stein on the subject of Oakland, there is not much there there.
Jerry initially seems like some minor annoyance, the sort that sits next to you on a plane flight when you’ve got a good book. But as he continues his invasive questioning of Peter, crowding his space, growing more erratically animated with his story, we do sense how mesmerizing Durkin is and how unstable Jerry is.

Director William Hayes -- who played Jerry in that earlier Dramaworks production -- might as well get some credit for helping to shape Durkin’s performance, but he is unable to breathe life into the first act or to make it seem less arch.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for the Sun-Sentinel:
The triumph of the production is the intense rehearsal work of director William Hayes and his cast, who excavated inscrutable dialogue for meanings embedded in the pauses among everyday speech and the feverish passions boiling under a placid surface.
Lowe has never been better communicating the quiet desperation of housewives you meet in the grocery store. Swan, a newcomer here, is inexplicably compelling and nuanced as a buttoned-down everyman. And Durkin simply nails the impossible role of the anguished man driven near madness.
Jan Sjostrom reviewed for the Palm Beach Daily News (The Palm Beach paper that didn't throw away its entire entertainment section and sell its soul to become a brochure for Sunfest):
Perhaps because of the gap between the writing of each act, the play is a study in contrasts. In act one, Albee exhibits his power to pinpoint seldom-expressed, uncomfortable truths, but he maintains a tone of gentle, if exasperated, affection. In act two — the old Zoo Story — he takes us into the Twilight Zone.
Act one introduces us to Ann, Peter's wife, portrayed with the clarity of etched glass by Margery Lowe.
Todd Allen Durkin gives what could be the most brilliant performance of his career as Jerry, who despite his demons has more soul than Peter ever will.
Dramaworks has a track record of superior productions of Albee plays. This one, like the rest, is not to be missed by those who like their theater hot and provocative.
Brandon K. Thorp reviewed for the Broward/Palm Beach New Times:
Fifty years ago, Zoo Story made playwright Edward Albee famous, but he forbids it from being shown again. Its brief, brutal, single act had struck him as incomplete. Now he's added another, and the two acts combined are called At Home at the Zoo, showing at Palm Beach Dramaworks.

The two-act piece is better, and that ought to be apparent to anyone unencumbered by nostalgia.
The new, first act is more subtle and in this production features Margery Lowe in her strongest and most understated performance in years....She is Ann, wife of Peter the publisher (played by Christopher Swann)
Their interactions, as orchestrated by director Bill Hayes, have the half-scary, half-wonderful feel of blood returning to a limb that's been slept on all night. Ann and Peter know each other well but are rusty at knowing. They love each other but are rusty at love.
The drifter, Jerry, is played here by Todd Allen Durkin, and he achieves what I thought impossible: making Jerry's secondhand beatnik ways look and sound authentic. If you've read or seen the play, you know that Jerry's a jerk...Durkin upends all of this.
Reimagining a classic is never easy, but At Home at the Zoo does more: It adds ambiguity to a work that, before, was all about absolutes, it turns ciphers to people, and it repositions its hero as a lost little boy who may not need a conversation so much as a spanking. Albee, in his old age, has become very wise.
At Home at the Zoo makes its home at Palm Beach Drama Works through June 14th.


  1. Todd Allen Durkin's performance this piece is the best stage performance I've ever seen on a South Florida stage. It's nuanced, powerful, and heartbreaking. (And It more then compensates for a weak first act that I'm guessing Albee felt compelled to write because one too many people over the years said: "That Jerry guy's brilliant, but without knowing more about Peter, I don't buy that he doesn't just... LEAVE!").

  2. Thanks for commenting!

    An interesting theory..maybe I should put a poll up to see what people think about the first act.