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Review Roundup: Edward Albee's AT HOME AT THE ZOO at Signature Theatre

Review Roundup: Edward Albee's AT HOME AT THE ZOO at Signature Theatre

Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo: Homelife & The Zoo Story officially opened last night on The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues).

At Home at the Zoo runs through March 11, 2018. In act one, Homelife, we meet Peter and his wife, who live a comfortable but vaguely unhappy bourgeois existence; in the second act, the classic The Zoo Story, Peter is forever altered by an oddly persistent stranger in Central Park. With jolts of brutality and Albee's signature dark humor, this seminal play explores both the love and the cruelty that we inflict on each other every day.

The cast includes two-time Tony Award-winner Katie Finneran (Noises Off, Promises, Promises), Tony Award-winner Robert Sean Leonard (The Invention of Love, "House"), Emmy Award-nominee Paul Sparks ("House of Cards," "Boardwalk Empire").

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Jesse Green, New York Times: The Signature staging by Ms. Neugebauer, who also directed the hilarious "Miles for Mary," has only a ghost to appease; it is much freer and funnier and thus more powerful. Set in a white shoe box covered with scribbles in the style of Cy Twombly - the scenic design is by Andrew Lieberman - it breathes instead of hyperventilates, until its brutal conclusion. The same is true of the actors: They do not approach the play as an awesome classic but as a living organism. Mr. Leonard, who often catches the sound of Albee's voice, is very good in the difficult role of a man whose avoidance of trouble has left him without The Bruises we call a personality. Mr. Sparks successfully solves the opposite problem in Jerry, a character with almost too many colors, often verging on purple.

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: It's not often that a playwright tinkers with his past work, especially if that work is a certified classic. But that's exactly what Edward Albee did roughly 10 years ago with his 1958 one-act The Zoo Story. Dissatisfied with its thin portrayal of one of the characters, Peter, Albee wrote a one-act prequel, Homelife, nearly a half-century after the original's premiere. The playwright subsequently went even further, updating the setting of The Zoo Story to the present day and controversially decreeing that it could no longer be performed solo but only when paired with the new work. The resulting double bill, originally called Peter and Jerry, now goes under the title Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo, presented here in a superbly acted revival from off-Broadway's Signature Theatre.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: Well, in some ways it's small. In reputation, it's big. Edward Albee's at Home at the Zoo (that's the legally mandated title, like Disney's Frozen) is a two-act play made up of a pair of related one-acts by Edward Albee, who died in 2016, after a career that helped to remake his chosen form. His biting psychological realism-with-a-twist unearthed the bitterness, desperation, and perversity beneath the taut, icy social surfaces, of more than 30 plays: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Delicate Balance, Three Tall Women, and many more.

Helen Shaw, TimeOut NY: There's no way to say this gently. The play At Home at the Zoo is a single drama Frankenstein-ed together out of two one-acts: Edward Albee's 1959 masterpiece, The Zoo Story, is bolted onto its far inferior prequel, Homelife, which premiered in 2004. And while you are still allowed to perform The Zoo Story on its own, the Signature Theater, which puts playwrights at the center of its mission, follows Albee's wish that the two be played as a single piece. That's laudable, honorable even, but it makes for an evening that's fully half bad. Yet there's good news: Thanks to the diamondlike brilliance of Paul Sparks in Zoo, the show is unmissable. (Out of respect for his costar Robert Sean Leonard, I'm not telling you to just show up at intermission.)

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: The brutal, brain-churning chat covers prophylactic mastectomies, a "retreating" circumcision, parakeets, sex so rough it unintentionally draws blood, conflicting desires between life being "a smooth voyage on a safe ship" and spicing up blah lives with "a little madness."

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Sometimes a good idea needs to simmer. So it seems with the late Edward Albee, who nearly 50 years after 1958's "The Zoo Story," his first success, embellished on the story with "Homelife," a prequel of sorts. The two are now performed together as "At Home at the Zoo" and in the current production at Signature Theatre, it's easy to see how the more recently written play clarifies the early one, especially deepening the character of the stodgy publishing executive Peter (an appropriately introspective Robert Sean Leonard), who alone appears in both.

Tim Teeman, Daily Beast: Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo seems such a complete piece of theater it is surprising to consider that 46 years separates the creation of its first and second act, which are in themselves two separate one-act plays. A wonderfully acted and polished production at New York City's Pershing Square Signature Center, directed by Lila Neugebauer, makes the two halves, the play itself, cohere brilliantly.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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