EDWARD ALBEE’S NEW/OLD PLAY
by Harvey Perr
published November 20, 2007
Peter and Jerry
now playing Off Broadway at the 2nd Stage Theater
through December 30
If Edward Albee insists that “Peter and Jerry” is the two-act play he says it is and always intended it to be, rather than two one-acts – one being “Homelife,” written in 2003 and the other, “the Zoo Story,” written in 1958 – I say we should trust him. If, at the moment, he doesn’t seem to be right, he may, in the end, be absolutely right. He has always been ahead of the curve, hasn’t he? It may be enough, at any rate, that the plays comprise the most satisfying evening of theater thus far this season; that “The Zoo Story” remains as effective and expressive as ever, a full-throttle verbally ferocious assault on our senses, a reminder, for those who remember, of what an impact Albee’s voice had on us from the start; that “Homelife” is, even better, an elegant bit of surgery on the contemporary soul, that, like so much of Albee’s recent work, is clean, lucid, and sharp, evidence that, while some of our senior artists mellow with age, Albee remains tough and uncompromising. It is just such a relief to be in the company of “Peter and Jerry.”
“Homelife” is as direct a portrait of a marriage, dissected with scalpel-like precision, one can imagine. As Ann goes after Peter, she doesn’t stop until the screw is turned, and all of Peter’s attempts to run for cover are seen with an acuity that just manages to stay clear of downright nastiness. Albee may have covered this territory before, but hardly ever with such intense concentration. Even after Peter makes a revelation that Ann seems to be drawing out of him, there is no comfort zone but merely more rupture. In the end, we understand perfectly why Peter takes the book he is reading and leaves for Central Park to wander into the mysteries of “The Zoo Story.”
There are times when he does seem to have wandered into another world, for, despite a contemporary reference or two, it is as if Peter has left this Sunday morning and entered a twilight zone, some Sunday past, for “The Zoo Story” was, after all, written nearly fifty years ago, while “Homelife” could only have been written in the very recent past. But the power of the early play comes through almost immediately and, once it takes hold, there is no stopping the juggernaut that it is. Peter, having already been confronted by his wife, is now having a face-to face with a sociopath, the Jerry of the play’s title, whose way with language has, as Jerry seems to know at the core of his being, a scarily mesmerizing effect. The question has always been on whose destruction Jerry is bent. What happens is devastating not only to us, the audience, but to both Peter and Jerry.
Pam MacKinnon has stunning directorial control over the pared-down and stripped-bare production. She gets to the heart of both plays with swiftness and economy of gesture. Neil Patel has created the perfect setting, simple and uncluttered and verdant as the sparest poetry, and Kevin Adams has lit it with burning brightness.
And the performances couldn’t be bettered. Johanna Day’s Ann, all angles and razor sharpness and with contained laser-like rage, possesses great warmth under the brittle edge; she fleshes out, with minimalist strokes, the complete woman Albee has created. And, as Jerry, Dallas Roberts, graceful in his stealth, carves out a dangerous and endangered species of mankind, forcing us to look at the radiance of madness even as we recoil from it. This reviewer can’t remember seeing a more electrifying or sensational Jerry. Still, it’s Bill Pullman’s Peter who finally catches the essence of the play. The look on his face, at the very end, frozen now in my memory, tells us that the animal instincts he has hidden from himself in “Homelife” are finally being looked at in “The Zoo Story,” and, in one glorious moment, “Peter and Jerry” becomes the two-act play Albee insists that it is.
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com