Theater Reviews

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Second Stage Theatre, New York
Through Dec. 30


Nearing 80, Edward Albee must have heard the expression, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Regardless, one of America's greatest living playwrights has seen fit to write a prequel to his classic one-act "Zoo Story," a work that has been almost universally lauded since its 1959 debut. The resulting double feature, with "Homelife" serving as the first act and "Zoo Story" as the second, is now called "Peter and Jerry."

The set for "Homelife" is a starkly furnished living room in Manhattan that looks more like a waiting room. Maybe that's appropriate because the couple that resides there -- the titular Peter (Bill Pullman) and his wife, Ann (Johanna Day) -- are a pair of champion idlers.

The pair engage in a conversation that segues through various stages of their lives, with the subjects ranging from botched circumcisions to cooking tips, from literary reviews to sexual deviance. Throughout, what becomes clear is that Ann would like to see more disorder in their all-too-orderly existence. Peter then leaves to do some reading in Central Park.

As Albee fans know, that's where "Zoo Story" picks up. Peter is sitting on a bench and engrossed in his book when he's approached by the odd, perhaps mentally unstable Jerry (Dallas Roberts). Jerry is intent on chatting, whether or not Peter consents. Jerry's graphic tales of his ardent landlady and his unique relationship with her dog bring out tension in both men, leading to the kind of chaos that Ann might very well applaud.

Director Pam MacKinnon keeps matters moving at a brisk pace, making one forget that what passes for action springs solely from the characters' colorful verbiage. She also plays up similar traits between Acts 1 and 2, helping to make for a smooth transition. Neither does she downplay the escalating tension, which contributes nicely to the startling conclusion.

As for the three-person cast, each member is in top form. Pullman -- who handled heavy-duty Albee on Broadway in "The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?" -- proves himself a master of reaction shots as Peter's laid-back persona gets chipped away, first by Ann and even more by Jerry. In the flashier role, veteran supporting actor Roberts is electric as the increasingly unstable yet charismatic Jerry. The lesser-known Day also holds her own, navigating Albee's complex patter with surprising aplomb.

By the show's finale, Albee's decision to expand on his gem from the '50s doesn't seem like such a bad idea. Granted, "Homelife" isn't the equal of "Zoo Story," but it's a perfectly pleasant appetizer to the more substantial main course. When garnished with the likes of Pullman, Roberts and Day, the result is a feast for theatergoers.

PETER AND JERRY
Presented by Second Stage Theatre
Credits:
Playwright: Edward Albee
Director: Pam MacKinnon
Set designer: Neil Patel
Costume designer: Theresa Squire
Lighting designer: Kevin Adams
Cast:
Peter: Bill Pullman
Jerry: Dallas Roberts
Ann: Johanna Day
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