In Edward Albee's Zoo Story, the strange, Bohemian transient Jerry asks the buttoned-down, married and—hence—normal Peter, "Do I annoy you or confuse you?" One can almost hear Albee directing the same question to his audience. Albee's rep, for the most part, has been built on placing characters in seemingly normal situations; giving them impossibly descriptive, weirdly poetic dialogue; and making them scream at one another.
Zoo Story is no different. Surreptitiously, it's the story of Jerry and Peter, total strangers meeting on a bench in Central Park and engaging in odd and disjointed conversation about the state of their respective lives. The relationship between Jerry and Peter is neatly summarized when Jerry asks where the line is drawn between "upper-middle middle class and lower-middle middle class," a question Peter is either unable or unwilling to answer. What we end up with is a thoughtful examination of a lonely, antisocial outsider peering in the window at normalcy and a conformist white-collar man forced out of his comfortable niche and off his familiar bench.
Chris Fowler's Jerry is manic, animated and completely engaging, and Sean Hesketh's Peter is an affable straight man, uncomfortable, confused and—like the audience—unsure what to make of the situation. Both men handle the difficult language with an easy and slightly detached realism. The fact that the performance takes place in an operating coffee shop is initially off-putting. But teenagers chatting on the other side of a thin wall gives the play a real sense of the very public setting and adds to the tension when things inevitably go sour. Ultimately, director Martin Winslow's admirably executed production of this very good, very disturbing play may leave us confused—but certainly not annoyed.
Zoo Story at the Ugly Mug Caff, 261 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 235-0696; www.askkevin.org. Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. Through Jan. 25. $5-$8.
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