Review: TCHH ‘Zoo’ inmates run free in Albee play

Posted
Thursday January 26, 2012

K.D. NORRIS

Arts and Entertainment Editor

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- Sometimes you only get a glimpse of something and yet you see the complete picture. Sometimes seeing someone at less than their best is the best way to see them clearly.

Absurd?

Welcome to the slightly absurdist theater of the Theater Company at Hubbard Hall’s short run production of "Two by Albee" -- comprised of the two one-act plays by Edward Albee, "The Zoo Story" and "The Sandbox" -- which opened last week and closes this weekend in the Freight Depot Theater behind Hubbard Hall.

The two very early Albee efforts were supposed to be part of Hubbard’s one-act play festival in the fall, but, as was explained prior to the performance, the theater company did not get final permission from the playwright in time.

So we get the two plays, directed by Hubbard artistic director John Hadden, in a very intimate setting in a usually dead time of the year for local theater.

Lucky us.

Not only do we get to see two fine performances in the long one-act "Zoo Story" and share a few laughs in the very short "Sandbox," we also get to see very early Albee -- at a time when he was clearly still exploring his craft.

Albee wrote "The Zoo Story" in 1958, and according to Internet sources, it was arguably the first play that he wrote. (There was, reportedly, a sex farce that he wrote at the age of 12. But that is a story for another day.) "Zoo" debuted off-Broadway at the Provincetown Playhouse in January 1960, to very mixed reviews.

However, what makes the play "mixed" is one of the main reasons the Hubbard production is worth the time and the cost of a ticket -- despite a sometimes confusing story line and too many loose beginnings and ends, the work allows Robert Forgett as "Jerry" and Doug Ryan as "Peter" to sink their teeth into something juicy.

As strangers who meet at a Central Park bench, each with secrets to tell, Forgett is a live wire that bounces dangerously around the stage while Ryan -- a fine comedic actor and usually the bouncing one on the stage -- is reserved ... until the live wire gets grounded.

Albee -- in a play of stilted humor, mostly black -- clearly gives Forgett more to work with as a mysterious, dangerous stranger; and the actor does the most with it. Jerry has done something bad at "the zoo" -- "you’ll read about it in the papers," he says. A downward spiral of conversation between the two leaves Ryan locked in a "fight or flight" conundrum. While Albee, and Jerry, rambles on in the overlong short play, both say enough to scare the heck out of Peter and the audience.

It is not a logical story line -- as we are told by Jerry at one point: "What are you trying to do? Make sense of it all?" But it is a captivating play, in no small part due to the actors’ work and the intimacy offered by theater’s layout and Hadden’s direction.

The second play, "The Sandbox" is little more than an excuse to lighten the mood and give us a chance to find some laughs in the fine work of Christine Decker as "Grandma." Forgett as "Daddy" and Sylvia Bloom as "Mommy" have short, effective roles; and young Duncan Gamble as the skinny beach boy of death (you’ll get it when you see it!) is simply silly. But after Decker, the best part is the on-stage interaction with the musician, Robbie McIntosh.

"The Sandbox" is also very early Albee, written in 1959, and while it could be defined as absurdist theater, it is best to not think to much, find your laughs, and move on.

Contact K.D. Norris at knorris@benningtonbanner.com and follow him on Twitter at banner_arts. The production will run through Jan. 29, with Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m., and Sunday performances at 2 p.m. The Freight Depot Theater is located off East Main Street, behind Hubbard Hall (25 East Main St.). Tickets are $20, $15 for students. For information call 518-677-2495 or visit hubbardhall.org.


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