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The Zoo Story

Both versions of Albee's two-man confrontation deserve to be seen and in tandem

Reviewed by Avimaan Syam, Fri., May 6, 2011

Arts Review

The Zoo Story

Various parks around Austin, 981-7332

www.secondhandtheatre.biz

Through May 22

Running time: 1 hr.

I worry what troubles our society today is that we're becoming too isolated. Between our choice of news channels and the proliferation of personal vehicles and the increase in daily conveniences, we very rarely have to challenge ourselves or interact with other people. Community, conversation, relation – a core part of what it means to be human seems to be less and less vital in our Digital Age. The loss of such interactions causes one character in Edward Albee's The Zoo Story to opine, "If you can't deal with people, you have to start somewhere."

I hope there never comes a day when I'm so deprived of humanity and empathy and community that I have to cold-call strangers for a bout of interaction. That's what the plot of Albee's first play boils down to: Jerry, a "permanent transient" who lives in a cluttered hellhole on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, interrupts Peter, a well-to-do executive at a publishing house, while he's reading in Central Park to request a conversation since he doesn't really get the chance to know people in his life.

It's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation with Jerry's inability to converse with other people: Did his broken childhood lead to his inability, or did his inability cause his broken adulthood? Either way, there's a desperate energy as he tries to explain to Peter his attempt to relate to an onerous dog in his building. This is heightened every time the two characters come into physical contact, as if touching is such a pure form of communicating that it alters the way people interact.

This swerving, mainly one-sided conversation veers to dark places and hard confrontation in just one hour. Second Hand Theatre's production is set in parks across Austin to mimic the intended setting of Albee's script, though I suppose I should say two productions – depending on which performance you see, the roles of Peter and Jerry alternate between actors Tom Truss and Joey Hood.

This makes for two shows with very different feels. Truss and Hood are both talented, award-winning actors with very different styles. There's a dignified austerity to Truss, an alluring distance between him and the audience, a peculiarity to his presence that is always captivating. Hood has always been focused, in the moment, and above all else honest, a quality necessary for art to have its effect.

Subsequently, their interpretations of Jerry, the heartbeat of The Zoo Story, contrast drastically. Truss' vagrant seems immediately dangerous and troubled, almost premeditated – he's eerily reminiscent of Rorschach from The Watchmen. Hood's approach is more of a vulnerable, puckish jester who's earnestly attempting to communicate. The resultant performances actually show very different ways to do the same play effectively.

Clocking in at a cool hour, The Zoo Story is a crisp look at the confrontation between the haves and the have-nots. Both Truss and Hood are riveting in both roles, and, really, the productions deserve to be seen in tandem.

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