BWW Review: EDWARD ALBEE'S AT HOME AT THE ZOO Perfectly Combines Two One-Acts and Signing/Speaking Actors
Two years ago, I was privileged to attend the opening night of The Wallis and Deaf West Theatre's production of SPRING AWAKENING, and I walked away knowing the incredible production would be an Ovation Award-winning that was destined to play on Broadway. Of course, it did and was nominated for several Tony Awards. In the process, the production set new standards on the Great White Way in that deaf and hearing actors portrayed the characters with the very talented, wheelchair-bound actress Ali Stoker being the first to grace a Broadway stage.
The two companies have teamed up again to present Edward Albee'S AT HOME AT THE ZOO, which combines Albee's groundbreaking 1959 short play The Zoo Story with his acclaimed prequel Homelife, written in 2004. Together these short plays tell a more complete story of publishing executive Peter, his wife Ann, and Jerry, the volatile stranger Peter meets in the park. The production marks the first major Albee production in Los Angeles since the 2016 passing of the legendary American Playwright, with Coy Middlebrook directing a cast that includes deaf and hearing actors working in perfect unison. In fact, their words and actions combine perfectly, so much so that it is easy to forget the signing actors are not really speaking their lines as each outrageous movement is paired with perfect, emotional vocal intonations.Both one-acts center on husband Peter (Troy Kotsur who signs the role with Jake Eberle as his voice), who walks out of his home after a thought-provoking conversation with his wife at the end of HOMELIFE in Act 1 to take a walk and read a book in peace in Central Park. Act 2 opens with THE ZOO STORY with Peter seated on a park bench and being approached by Jerry (Russell Harvard who signs the role from March 7 - 15; Tyrone Giordano will play the role of Jerry from March 16-26, with Jeff Alan-Lee as his voice throughout the run), who, as Peter's wife did in the first act, confronts him about what it means to really live life to the fullest. In HOMELIFE, Amber Zion signs the role of Ann (with Paige Lindsay-White as her voice), who, like Albee's other witch of a wife Virginia Woolf, seems to want to get her husband out of the sexual rut she feels trapped in with him. "You make love wonderfully," she claims, "but sometimes I just want to f*ck." And I have to tell you, during their descriptions of past sexual encounters as their banter continues, the signing actors' movements were more hysterical than the words being spoken!
Throughout both acts, poor Peter can't catch a break to just relax and read. It reminds me of how I often feel about my cell phone constantly interrupting me when I am trying to focus on writing, breaking my train of thought. I feel his pain, as will you as this mild-mannered man is mentally drilled to examine his life in ways he would prefer not to face. This second collaboration between The Wallis and Deaf West Theatre provides a powerful and engaging theatrical experience as it examines Albee's take on the animal in humanity.
The creative team includes: Karyl Newman (set & costume designer), Julien Elstob (lighting designer), Tom Jones (sound designer), Jennifer Brienen (production stage manager), Kelsey Gilchriest (assistant stage manager), Linda Bove (ASL master), Jessica Frank (assistant ASL master) and Justin Jackerson (assistant ASL master).
Edward Albee'S AT HOME AT THE ZOO plays in the Lovelace Studio Theater at The Wallis through March 26, 2017 on Tues - Fri at 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 2pm & 7pm. Single tickets are available for $40 - $75. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 310.746.4000, visit TheWallis.org, or stop by in person at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Ticket Services located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Photo credit: Kevin Parry