By Louise L. Coffin
Spotlight Theatre’s current production of At Home at the Zoo is Edward Albee’s two-act combination of his 1959 play, The Zoo Story, and his 2004 “prequel,” Homelife. His first major hit, The Zoo Story, apparently felt unfinished to its author, who, more than four decades later, wrote the partially explanatory preface. The character Peter bridges the acts; his wife Ann appears only in the first; the down-and-out stranger Jerry only in the second.
While the first act has its humorous moments, the scenario gradually grows darker and more disturbing. The second act begins ominously, then becomes more frenzied and brutal.
Spotlight’s production brings out, in no uncertain terms, the themes of the inability to connect and communicate with another; of the desperate need to explain oneself, fearing not to be understood, and all too often failing to be.
As Ann, Emily West speaks her opening line, “We should talk,” with humor underscored with distress. With a strong sureness, West reveals Ann’s increasingly insistent demands, as she struggles to make sense of and revive a moribund relationship. West’s spot-on characterization makes the audience feel Ann’s frustration.
Eric Rupp plays Peter as the unwilling-to-be-involved husband who would rather be anywhere but “here.” Finally provoked beyond his control, Rupp consummately ramps up his character into a utterly believable man filled with personal demons. Indeed, Rupp makes us understand the anguished and inevitable conclusion.
At his entrance, Thomas-Robert Irvin, cast as Jerry, immediately fills the audience with dread. His physical presence, his mannerisms, the various pitches and cadences of his voice all serve to emphasize a growing sense of doom. Irvin’s performance is a tour de force of character realization.
How fortunate we are to have Spotlight Theatre in our town. The upcoming season includes Happy Birthday, Wanda June; The Miracle Worker; Cabaret; and four other productions. along with a sprinkling of improv nights and special events.
Saturday evening’s performance of Albee was a truly professional one. If you value good theater, strong acting, and are unafraid of thought-provoking material, hie yourselves to Swarthmore Methodist Church, Spotlight’s convenient venue, tonight or tomorrow night (July 29 or 30). After that, your opportunity is gone.
Please be aware that At Home at the Zoo contains profanity, sexual references, and violence. It is not suitable for children.