By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
The Zoo Story (Stage 17, Roxy on Gateway)
The struggle between what’s socialized and what’s primal about us human animals: that’s what propels the one-act that rocketed Edward Albee into the forefront of American theatre two decades ago.
The Fringe has a long (and, trust me, checkered) history with this apparently — in reality anything but — simple short play. For decades at a time, no Fringe went by without a production, indoors and out, sometimes two a summer. But for years now, no word from the fateful park bench in Central Park where Peter, a decent, cardigan-wearing publishing executive with an upper-middle-class family life, sits reading a book. Until he’s accosted by a chatty, oddly insistent, vaguely menacing loner, Jerry, who goads him into a lethal confrontation over the possession of the bench.
If there were any lingering doubt that The Zoo Story still packs a power-punch, it’s the moment to hie yourself to the Roxy on Gateway where the excellence of Bradley Moss’s production and performances from two substantial actors make the play’s shocking emotional escalation come alive again.
James Hamilton calibrates, in a natural way, exactly the way Peter’s mix of muted perplexity and his ordinary tendency to why-not? accommodation gradually gets jostled, bit by bit, into something gradually warier. And Collin Doyle is wonderful as Jerry; the actor’s naturally open-faced, wholesome look and smile give him a benign, disarmingly conciliatory air. Jerry’s mild, unthreatening charisma — you could call it innocence — and the feeling that he’s reassessing on the spot make the intensity of urge to connect even more startling and powerful. The story of Jerry’s encounter with a malevolent dog has a compelling sense of a memory revisited vividly in the mind.
Designer Scott Peters surrounds the bench with the lighting and sounds of urban life. This is a lively, fully engaged production of a play that sneaks up on you in a memorable way; the great man himself would be impressed.