Sunday, October 21, 2007

Animal Tendencies

"Edward Albee's Peter and Jerry" at Second Stage Theatre, October 21, 2007

Expanding on his 1958 success "The Zoo Story," Mr. Albee has written something of a prequel to provide a full view of Peter from the earlier play. "Homelife" according to Mr. Albee, "...will flesh Peter fully and make the subsequent balance better."

I think he is quite successful in this. Peter (Bill Pullman) and his wife Ann, (Johanna Day) struggle through a compelling, if oddly dysfunctional act revealing things about their marriage that it seems neither really wanted to ever say. At the end of the act, Peter announces he is going to the park to read, setting up the the odd and disconcerting (to say the least) encounter with Jerry.

As Peter, Mr. Pullman maintains a palpable detachment and personal discomfort that made me wonder if he and his wife had ever talked about anything beyond superficial things like the weather or how dull the textbook is that is being published by his firm.

Ms. Day's Ann attempts to struggle the role of a housewife in some sense of timelessness. In 1958, a full-time home-maker was the standard in the American nuclear family. Fifty years later, such a profile is much less common, requiring a bit more of a stretch in imagination by the audience than might be credible. Yet, she is not willing to go so far as we see in Lifetime movies, thank goodness. But her desire for a sense of passion and fire in their relationship is extinguished when Peter shares a disturbing tale from a fraternity incident and an unnamed co-ed.

Peter's recovery from his revelation seems a bit expedient by the time he leaves for the park. When Jerry (Dallas Roberts) happens along, it's apparent that things are about to get uncomfortable.

Mr. Roberts' Jerry, manic and quirky, never quites breathes the real danger that lurks within. When the violence does occur, it feels more an accident rather than the manipulation of a sociopath. His rambling stories did lose a bit of steam and edge in the (almost endless) tale of his landlady's dog.

Mr. Albee explores the nature of duality on several levels in these two related one-acts: husband/wife, parents/children, people/pets, cats/birds, love/lust, sane/crazy, indoor/outdoor, and ultimately, life/death. Neil Patel echoes this duality in his two-window interior and two-bench exterior sets, all gently surrounded by a curved grass-green scrim.

Ultimately, I found the new first act more compelling, but struggled with the stilted language in Peter and Ann's conversation. Director Pam McKinnon has pulled solid performances from Mr. Pullman and Ms. Day, but hasn't managed to get much edge or sense of menace out of Mr. Roberts for Jerry. It is early in previews, however. With a few more performances, all should find the appropriate levels for a strong production.

No comments: