The Zoo Story
BY EDWARD ALBEE
Director – Robert Moore
TWIN BILL AT THEATRE UNB
Thursday night in Memorial Hall, UNB, Nasty Shadows Theatre Company, in co-operation with Theatre UNB opened its production of a modern classic, and a short theatre-of-the-absurd play.
Director Robert Moore and his cast of three are to be commended for their efforts, which succeeded in bringing out strong characterization in both plays.
In fact, one actor, Scott Shannon, even did double duty, appearing in major, but very different roles in the two plays.
The classic was Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story, with Andrew Jones as Peter, and Scott Shannon as Jerry. Albee’s is a play about male aggression, for which the zoo is a metaphor. A psychological study set in New York City, it requires a minimal set: only a park bench, occupied by Peter, a typically tweedy and somewhat reticent academic. He is approached by Jerry, a man looking for a captive audience to which he can relate his story of a visit to the zoo.
Shannon, as the protagonist, gave a strong performance, early on portraying a nervy, jumpy street person with an attitude, then shading this into an alternately manic and friendly guy who gains the attention of his listener. He was good at making sudden shifts in mood, such as flashes of anger, and his staccato delivery conveyed the underlying desperation and neediness of his character’s psyche.
Jones also had his character well worked out. Beginning with a faint air of boredom, he warmed up to become an interested listener and sometime contributor to the conversation. But there was always an undercurrent of unease about him, even as he tried to do the politically correct liberal thing: humour this bum, and maybe he’ll go away and leave him in peace. His buildup to anger and violence was very gradual, and believable, changing abruptly to total devastation at the end.
The interaction between the two actors was fascinating to watch, as they oscillated between sharing personal details, and a gathering storm of aggression. And while we never really hear Jerry’s zoo story in any detail, it becomes all too apparent in the end what it was about, but I won’t spoil that for you.
Cowboys #2, by movie actor and playwright Sam Shepard was the first play presented. A short, 20-minute effort, it was theatre of the absurd. The minimalist plot had the two protagonists, Chet (David Thorne) and Stu (Scott Shannon) as cowboys decked out in black hats and shirts, jeans and boots, and complete with exaggerated western drawls and the bow-legged stride of men who have spent too many hours in the saddle. They were preparing to make a stand- off against what the sound effects conveyed as a large number of Indians attacking them on horse.
This hackneyed scenario would hardly be worth remarking, but Shepard turns it on its head, as in a kind of Roots in reverse, we see flash- forwards to Mel (Thorne) and Clem (Shannon), modern-day denizens who don’t appear to have their lives very well sorted out. The absurdity lies in the fact that they apparently bear no relation to the cowboy characters. Or do they?
It’s a difficult play to carry off, because as it progresses, the cuts from cowboy times to the present start occurring right in the middle of the action. For instance, when Stu is shot by the Indians, Chet drops his drawl and starts cursing them out in a most modern manner. Both Shannon and Thorne succeeded in carrying off these abrupt transitions.
They also conveyed well the elaborate courtesy of the cowboys, and their rather rudimentary conversation skills, as opposed to Thorne’s monologue as Mel, in which he prattles on about peacocks, and later breakfast foods, even as his friend/cowboy partner is apparently oblivious to all.
Thorne had the major role, and as the latter-day denizen, was positively frenetic. Shannon interacted well, playing the sidekick to Thorne’s energetic cowboy/friend.
Director Moore’s staging worked well. With only two actors, things could easily become static, but this never happened. The actions of the cowboys rolling in the mud after a rainstorm, and later cooling their legs in a stream were nice touches. Even if the sets were minimal, the sound for Cowboys #2 was very evocative.
Cowboys #2 and The Zoo Story continue tonight and Saturday night, at 8 p.m. in Memorial Hall, UNB.
© 1999 The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton)
Also staged that night: Cowboys #2.
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