Yesterday, Pam and I checked out Peter & Jerry at Second Stage. The production is directed by Pam MacKinnon and features Bill Pullman as Peter, Dallas Roberts and Jerry and Johanna Day as Ann.
Some quick and unedited thoughts:
The Zoo Story is an American classic and one of the greatest single acts ever written. With this additon of a first act, Albee seems to seek to refocus and deepen The Zoo Story. To give Peter a better balance with Jerry, who absolutely dominates, famously, the action of the original.
How does it work? It's hard to say objectively. The Zoo Story carries not only a rich history, but is a perfect piece in and of itself. Homelife (the first act) isn't necessary. Peter's relative silence is a part of who he is, and giving him context doesn't change how he responds to Jerry on that park bench in Central Park. It didn't, to me, seem as if the play was a 'new' full-length. Peter & Jerry feels more like two separate plays on a theme.
That theme, though, is intact: the thin film between what is civilized and what constitutes animal behavior. With Homelife, Albee presents a conversation between the balled up Peter and his more open wife, Ann. Certainly, in Homelife, Albee retains his ability to shock. But in many ways, it feels like a smaller, less developed version of The Goat or Who is Sylvia? The Zoo Story, by contrast, feels that much more rich and punchy. Not because Homelife deepens it, but because Homelife's stakes are simply lower. Jerry, by contrast, has so little stake in things being as they are, that Ann seems more like a conspirator than a provacateur.
One side note is the grammatical jousting that Peter and Ann engage in ("I would gather my wits about me." "You would gather your wits together"). The echoes with The Goat are rather loud here, and it's not my favorite mode of Albee's newer work. While it might be said to reveal a bit of over-education on the part of our leads, more than that, it seems like Albee channeling Strunk & White. It's a comedy bit, with little teeth, except to remind the audience that precision matters to the author. The Zoo Story more clearly lacks this story of 'red-pen-chic', and it's the better for it. There's no filler and no fetishizing of pedantry.
That all being said, Peter & Jerry does work as an evening. It does create some deepening of Peter's internal struggles, and the tone doesn't feel disjointed, which is a minor miracle considering how many years have passed between the writing of each. A production of Homelife without the Zoo Story seems less likely than the reverse, but it seems that's not a goal of Albee's anyhow.
Certainly worth a look. Glad I saw it. Still mulling the whole thing over.
Anyone out there taken a look at these pieces recently, or as an evening? I'd love your thoughts.
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.