Theater J Does Albee – And Albee Does a Number on Us!

(Meaning Albee really rocks our world, and plays crazy, incendiary mind games on his audience, not to mention his terrorized, terrorizing characters. More on that in the comments below.)

It’s Arena Stage’s last week of running The Edward Albee Festival, having presented a sterling Steppenwolf Theatre production of Albee’s masterpiece, WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF and the area premiere of the two one-acts, AT HOME AT THE ZOO (which we’ll be seeing Thursday). Additionally, the DC theater community participated in reading the entire Albee ouevre, and Theater J’s turn came this past weekend. Read about our contribution on the Arena Stage blog, and then, in our comments, share thoughts about the readings and the productions.

Here’s an excerpt from the Arena Stage interview with Theater J director, Shirley Serotsky.

What inspired you to apply for the Edward Albee Festival?

Shirley: David Dower made the project sound quite exciting–as did D. Ohlandt, the Festival Producing Fellow in follow up emails! It is interesting for us to look at writers who seem very much outside of our mission– writers like Edward Albee who is so WASP-defined– and to find the ways in which these very much non-Jewish writers actually do connect to our mission. Edward Albee–so well known for his patrician leading ladies and plays about WASP-y family dynamics– seems like a far stretch for a theater committed to producing plays that speak to the Jewish experience. Yet Albee’s plays often surround issues of identity; they include stories of the outsider; of trying to fit in. These themes are familiar to us.

Tell us about the play you’ll be reading in the Festival– what is intriguing about it? What’s exciting? What drew you to it?

We’ll be presenting Three Tall Women. Albee has written openly that he based the character A on his adoptive mother, and that she was, indeed, casually prejudiced. He wrote in 1994, in the introduction to the play, “I harbor no ill-will toward her; it is true I did not like her much, could not abide her prejudices, her loathings, her paranoias, but I did admire her pride, her sense of self… I was touched by the survivor, the figure clinging to the wreckage… refusing to go under.” Survival stories– these we are also familiar with.

Read more here.


30 thoughts on “Theater J Does Albee – And Albee Does a Number on Us!

  1. Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf was a powerful story filled with raw emotions and heated battles. I did not know anything about the plot of this intricate and interesting play before I entered Arena Stage last Thursday. I looked through the booklet and saw that there were three acts, and I thought that would make for a different theater going experience than the other plays we have seen. And was this play ever different! It was fast paced, intense, confusing, entertaining, funny, and tragic all at once. By the third act I was very impressed with the actors and their abilities to sustain such heightened and intense emotions for three hours. Watching the dysfunctional, and at times verbally and physically abusive, relationship between Martha and George was exhausting as an audience member; I cannot even fathom how difficult those scenes are for the actors to perform. The actress who played Martha did a spectacular job being whimsical, caustic, and entertaining all at once. The actor who played George had to act defeated, enlivened, and malicious all at once. Also the actors who played the late-night guests gave a wonderful performance as a newly wed couple still learning about each other’s weaknesses and faults. The wife gave a great performance as a fragile woman with dark secrets and a fondness for brandy, and the actor playing the young husband did a convincing job playing a man bored with his life and his wife. This play was emotionally demanding for both the viewer and the actors, but after the third act one is very glad they watched this brilliant performance, and this intriguing storyline.

  2. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” was a haunting and exhausting experience. With no former knowledge of the production, I was pleased to see a light-hearted opening. I remember thinking, “Oh how nice, what a fun and sweet older couple!” I couldn’t have been more wrong. It seemed just when I thought I had figured out a plot point, a strange twist was thrown in and I was thrown off. It’s amazing the way things are just never as they seem.

    I leaned over to my neighbor during the opening and said, “I hope my marriage is like theirs”—so playful and sweet. As the play unfolded, of course, I had to retract that statement. Martha seemed like such a fun character. I hoped to be like her at that age: attractive, free-spirited, and outspoken. But soon I found Martha to be nothing like she seemed.

    The “slim-hipped wife” of the professor annoyed me most when she was first introduced on stage. I thought she had a terrible personality and didn’t think she was a very convincing character. And yet by the end of the play, I found her to be the most likable and relatable character. Her hysterical pregnancy had nothing on the antics of Martha and George….

    From a homebody to an angry, almost crazed husband, George changed dramatically. And the young professor went form a dashing, smart husband to a sleazy jerk.

    I found these transformations exhausting to watch, and I left the theater so tired. I can’t imagine how the actors were feeling! They each gave an excellent and really impressive performance. I certainly left the theater with a new perspective. Things are simply never quite as they seem.

  3. As I left the theater on Thursday night, you could just have easily convinced me that I was leaving a boxing match because of the intensity of the verbal, emotional, and sometimes even physical blows exchanged between Martha and George. Their sparring was, as Laura and Sarah have noted, indeed exhausting, but also exhilarating in a twisted way. I imagine that this is the point-the couple is so wrapped up in the urge to see each other bleed that they are very effectively distracted from the true pain of their disappointing lives.

    I was impressed by all of the actors’ ability to shift back and forth between their infantile characters—from Martha’s “Daddy” references and baby-talk, their games, and the whole of Honey’s character—to their shockingly adult alter-egos—Martha and Nick’s infidelity, their unapologetic profanity, their persistent retreats to the bar. It was shocking and enthralling, and kept the audience guessing which characters we would be getting next.

    At first, I was worried by the fact that the entire play would be set in the living room. I am typically more engaged when the set allows for more action and scenery changes…but this did not prove to be a problem. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, despite being one of, if not the longest play I’ve seen, successfully relies on its biting language and character development to carry the plot.

    I really struggled with the revelation at the end of Act 3 that the son is merely a private coping mechanism for George and Martha. Both characters feel that their lives have been a failure, and they use childish games to cover their complacency with this fact, but now there is no where to hide. The game is up, and all they have left is the harsh reality. For George, I think this is positive. He has clear potential that has been stifled by his toxic relationship to Martha and the shackles imposed by her Father. Now perhaps he can break free from that. For Martha, I think she is now nothing but a shell of herself. She has nothing to offer the post-war world. She had been living in that fantasy world long before George, relying on her father and her social position to provide for her. Her self-worth is wrapped up in the wealth and power that she siphons off others…and blames George for her inability to hold onto it. Truthfully, I think she deserves the pain she now feels. Perhaps she represents the crumbling of an old world order that glorifies status. Now, only those like George (or who George could have become) can thrive—those who are self-reliant, creators, thinkers.

  4. Seeing “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf” made for a wonderful Thursday night activity. From the very beginning the relationship between George and Martha provided immense comic relief as I was captivated by their back and forth. The way they talked to one another was how I imagined all couples did after being married for decades and have given up on compromising and impressing one another. Their dialogue was fresh and entertaining and I found myself laughing every few sentences.

    However, by middle of Act I the play took a decidedly weird turn. It was still hilarious and the personal attacks that Martha and George continued to take on one another were very uncomfortable and laughter was replaced with awkwardness. Nonetheless, I was still captivated. As Martha and George continued to undercut each other, with each blow receiving more gasps and cringes from the audience, I crept further onto the edge of my seat, preparing myself for what was sure to be a gut wrenching ending.

    Separated into three acts, I found myself using intermission to comprehend what I had just saw in the previous act. I would sit, attempting to fathom the intense scrutiny and condemnation that George and Martha had for one another. It was more than a marital spat. It went way beyond that, and I could not figure out why they were acting this way or what was triggering it.

    I’m still not exactly sure what I saw on Thursday night, but I know I was captivated throughout the entire performance. There was anger, hatred, seduction, adultery, payback, and alcohol. It was a beautiful thing.

  5. After watching Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, I could see much of Edward Albee’s style represented in the reading of Three Tall Women. First, there is little in the way of scenery (obviously this could not be represented in a reading very well, but through the lack of on-stage direction and narration, it seemed that both acts would have been played in a single room, like the living room in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf). Instead, the dialogue alone is intended to drive the plot. As in the other play, the dialogue is superb…and painful. A is bitterly clinging to the past, trying to regain the power that was her youth through relaying stories about it to B and C. Yet, she is trapped by her old age—she is senile, lacks control over her bodily functions, and feels abandoned by her son and the friends that have died.

    Also, when it is revealed in Act 2 that the 3 tall women are actually one in the same, I was very much reminded of the alter-egos of George and Martha. At 26, C feels invincible in her youth and rejects the notion that she will one day turn into A. While Martha uses baby-talk and games to reject the reality of growing up, A acts like an angsty pre-teen. She bickers with C over every small detail—her inability to pay her bills, her forgetfulness, and her true age.

    It was interesting to read that Albee based A’s character off of his estranged adoptive mother. Although she is an extremely difficult character, I found myself very sympathetic toward her character. As Albee said, her pride is admirable, and I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to feel trapped in a body that does not represent her inner being. I have lived with my grandmother, now 94, for most of my life, and I could see much of my own grandma in her character. My grandma is strong, proud, and quick, yet her brain and heart do not age in sync with her bones. She struggles daily to cope with her loss of control, her forgetfulness, and the loss of many loved ones throughout the years. I am impressed with Albee’s truthful portrayal of this character and with the actor who brought her to life for the audience.

  6. “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf?” The eerie chorus continued to echo through my mind as I joined my fellow Michigan students on our walk back to the metro station.

    We causally chatted about the performance as we made plans for the rest of the evening and the next day. The overall consensus was what we had just seen was a very powerful piece of theater. The performance that Tracy Letts (as George) and Amy Morton (as Martha) was truly mind blowing for a lot of us who hadn’t been exposed to the story before. I am so impressed by the amount of emotion these actors are able to put into each and everyone of their performance as they laugh, cry, and scream at one another. When the show ended and the audience rose in applause, Amy Morton’s eye were still bright red as tears streaked down her face. These actors leave everything they have on the stage to make sure they are bringing Edward Albee’s words to life.

    The storyline itself keeps you on the edge of your seat. In mere moments you could go from hysterical laughter to excruciating tension. The play wildly ebbs and flows from playful banter, to sharp criticism, and from sexual innuendo to cutting attack. A critic once wrote that this performance is the Molotov cocktail of theater; I couldn’t agree anymore.

    Some of my fellow classmates will argue that the length of the play took away from the performance, but this is one time I think the full three hours was necessary. The story and scene does take a considerable amount of time to develop as you continue to delve deeper and deeper into George and Martha’s games with their guests Honey and Nick. You are still undoubtedly left somewhat aghast when the play concludes, but because of the lengthy development and detailed background, you can better understand the actions of this seemingly insane couple.

    This play seemed to fit quite nicely into our discussion of the concept of home. What happens when you find yourself needing more than the reality that your life has become? At what point does your created story take over the real world. As Martha asked George, “But do you believe it? Is it fact or fiction?” It causes one to wonder; if one commits themselves fully to their “story” does the distinction between reality and fiction disappear? When does the game end??

  7. I am not ashamed to admit that upon the conclusion of Virginia Woolf, I was confused. Upon a fellow classmate explaining a the depth and breadth of psychological warfare, I was overcome by the sheer brilliance of this performance. The script is naturally legendary, but I must give high marks to the actors for this particular tour. Amy Morton’s portrayal of Martha was quite good—her laugh is particularly memorable. And George was underappreciated, I believe. The Coen Brothers (particularly in Lebowski) have always been idols to me, and seeing the same type of witty and hysteric banter in Woolf gave me positive feelings.

    Besides being impressed by the remarkable alcohol tolerance of the characters (save Honey), I found it interesting to watch the development of George from entertainer, to insecurity, to battling back and ultimately coming back victorious. After the second intermission, I remember remarking to my peers, “Martha sure is a (expletive).” This only led me to “root” for George for the rest of the play, but despite the absolutely authentic display of emotion at the end of the performance I felt almost apathetic to Marta—almost as though she got what she had coming. The three hours offered a complete transformation from the friendly back-and-forth between husband and wife, to complete and utter despair.

    I found that one of the things I appreciated most were the tangential stories told by those in attendance—they had nothing to do with the storyline on the surface, and yet still meant so much more. For example, the argument in Act Three about the moon, the biology v. history argument, etc. I would very much like to delve into this scenes and understand how Albee meant them to be useful.

  8. I find it incredibly fitting that the last show I will blog about this semester is Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women. In a semester where we have thoroughly discussed the concept of home this play seemed to provide the perfect closing thoughts for our Theater class.

    All throughout the semester we have asked the question, what constitutes home? Is the building a Palestinian family leaves behind their home? Or does that building belong to the Israeli refugees who began living their and raised their family there?

    Can a boy named Marcus, who is just a little bit sweet, find a home with a family who chooses not to accept him for the person he was? Does he need to conform to his home or fight for his home to accept him as he is?

    Can a woman find a home in a field dominated by science? Even if her work belongs in the most prestigious laboratory, does she?

    Three Tall Women takes place in the wealth bedroom of a 91 (or possibly 92) year old woman who can’t tell you what day of the week it is, but can surely say that today is today. Does this room constitute her home? She sits sifting through her uncertain memories, lamenting over the loss of all her friends and lovers, and complaining that her son doesn’t come to visit her often enough. I argue that this bedroom, with this negative air, is not truly her home.

    Home for A is the memories she tells her nurse (B) and the representative from her lawyer (C). It is not the pain in her arm, her current discomfort, or her bed-wetting tendencies. It is rather the moments she relives, that make her laugh and cry, smile and despair. We establish a home by sharing such emotions with other human beings. For me, Three Tall Women helped answer our semester long question by saying home isn’t a physical place, but is rather the people who made us who were are in that place.

  9. Much like Andy, I too was left wondering, “what the hell just happened?” What began with hysterical verbal darts and increasingly awkward sexual tension amongst characters the same age as my own parents had turned dark and depressing. Throughout the last act of the play I kept telling myself, “this can’t actually be how it ends.” A couple with the potential to live happy, rewarding lives is left wallowing in the unfulfilled shells of their lives. George, shackled by his lack of ambition and the marriage to Martha, is left consoling the same woman whose problems seem to drag everyone else down around her.

    The performances of the two female characters really blew me away. I easily associated with Honey because, as a college student, I am no stranger to seeing “lightweights” slurring speech, doing silly things, and ending up “curled up on the tile with the bottle of [insert alcohol here.] She played her role perfectly and left me, and many of my friends laughing hysterically every time she spoke/entered the room/danced etc. On the other hand, Martha’s every word and action left me cringing in my seat because it was so vicious. (I think it didn’t help that I kept imagining her as the mother in ‘Rookie of the Year’)

    It was so depressing to me, that as I thought about it later that night, instead of attempt to break free from the lifestyle that was clearly suffocating both of them, they “made up” a new reality. They didn’t divorce, they didn’t move away from the college, they didn’t travel. They just kept pretending that everything was fine. Assisted by endless amounts of alcohol, they unconsciously slipped into a false reality. At least, I think it had to be unconscious, because no one actually prefers that sort of lifestyle to ANY sort of alternative, right?

    It was a fantastic performance that I will not forget any time in the near future and I would consider my introduction to Albee, a tremendous success.

  10. I had the pleasure to view on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?” on Friday as I took the wrong metro train and ended up in the state in of Virginia. But with the help of Ari and the fine folks at Arena Stage I was able to purchase a ticket to a sold out Friday showing.
    If someone told me this play was three hours, I would be astonished. Because it defiantly felt much quicker than that. It was interesting to have two intermissions, never been through that in a play.
    Overall, the play kept me engaged throughout. I think the hook for me was the interplay between the characters. Martha and George were especially brilliant in their roles and the back and forth bickering was extremely entertaining for me.
    The play had phenomenal acting by both couples and it really came out through the play. I only wonder if they were actually consuming alcohol throughout the play! I highly doubt, but they actually were it would be awesome.
    The ending did live up as the rest of the play did. There potential for a far more dramatic ending, but it seemed to end on a whim. Perhaps this reveals flaws in the strength of the plot. But nonetheless, it was a minor issue that I found with the play.
    I was also against the fabrication of the fake son and I thought it seemed a bit uncreative from the playwright to figuratively kill the son. It come across as pointless at the end and there was no revelation to solve the martial problems between Martha and George.

  11. Several of my classmates mentioned the turn of events that took them by surprise during the performance of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” I too felt that the dynamic between George and Martha transformed from innocent bickering to relentless verbal abuse rather abruptly. Still, I could see Albee’s point in introducing George and Martha’s relationship as entertaining yet harmless. This method parallels the theme that the surface does not always reflect deeper emotions. The play is a story of how feelings of inadequacy can consume people’s lives and make them feel as though they have disappointed their significant other.

    In George and Martha’s case, their inadequacy lies in their inability to conceive a child. In the end of the play, the audience felt blindsided by the introduction of George and Martha’s son. In Albee’s defense, he subtly hinted at this dynamic with Honey’s hysterical pregnancy. Her child served as the basis for her marriage, thus introducing the idea that children are ties that can bind a couple together, despite an absence of love.

    Although Martha cannot conceive a child, she and George pretend that they have a son, and this is the reason for their enduring marriage. Still, an imaginary child cannot compensate for a lack of passion and love in a relationship. In the end, the audience was left wondering what was next for George and Martha. Will they be able to overcome the death of their son together, or will this event permanently damage their marriage? They are left to acknowledge feelings of failure that they kept buried for so many years.

  12. I thought I had the play all figured out… To me, Martha and George where delusional, senile stay-ins who were constantly imagining their younger selves in a sort of cathartic hillucination. Georgea antagonistic relationship with the “young stallion”, made other elements of the plot seem to fit in. For instance, George and his younger self were both academics, and both seemed dissatisfied with their careers. I thought their parallel was caused by Georges own torment over his wife’s inferiltiy- hence his talk of the super-human race. That is, I imagined that the “son” that inspires such spousal hatred and violence never existed.

    When it was revealed that the younger “mouse
    lady” either had a miscarriage or had invented a pregnancy, Martha and her sons Oedipus- like relationship seemed to make sense, as a sort of extreme manifestation of love that came out of absence.

    However, after consulting with one of my colleagues, I learned that my ideas about the play were in fact imagined. And so, I will have tonconclude saying that baffling story line was only one of the impressive elements of the story. It was great!

    • It was helpful to have read my friends blog posts to clarify some of my own crazy ideas. It seems that there was no sort of dual-reality, or dream state going on the play. Rather, as Dan points out, their introduction was just used to point out how twisted and flawed Martha and George’s marriage had become. Regardless of the “plane” of the performance, it was moving nonetheless. Martha’s bizarre antics, vulgarity and antagonistic relationship with her husband kept me on the edge of my seat. I agree with Matt that this was a very useful introduction to Albee.

  13. At Home in the Zoo is the type of performance that can be categorized as polarizing—you love it, or you vehemently hate it. I struggled with the actual set-up of the stage, as I was fresh off of a performance of Virginia Woolf, which had a fully constructed stage. I must admit that Zoo seemed bare in comparison, but I eventually overcame it.

    I struggled with the first half of the play, and though the message seemed to be Peter struggling to reach his inner animal instinct as he lived in his textbook world, but the second half presented a metaphor that was much easily understood. Jerry told us that his trip to the zoo was for the purpose of seeing how animals and people interacted with each other—which was made difficult because of the bars forcing animals and people into seclusion. Likewise, Peter was secluded from the rest of world in his middle class lifestyle—one wife, two girls, two cats, and two parakeets. The woman in the front of Jerry’s boarding house was secluded as well. None of the characters, in fact, interact with each other. Albee probably meant this to be commentary on the lack of societal interaction. Eventually, people just become “vegetables” and are content with an uneventful, trapped lifestyle. This makes Jerry’s initial meeting of Peter quite out of the ordinary, because striking up a conversation with a complete stranger seems, unfortunately, taboo. The final portion of the second act is Peter finally being able to reach his animal instincts in trying to protect his domain from an intruder, and eventually killing the offender. Other than the theme of animal instincts and societal seclusion, I had a lot of trouble interpreting this play—such as the story of the foreskin. Overall, Albee’s brilliance emanates again from the sharp, witty dialogue and banter.

  14. On Sunday night I viewed a reading Albee’s work ‘Three Tall Women” . This was the last reading that I would attend for the semester and I thought it was fitting for it to be at Arena Stage.
    The reading was a bit different than something I previously viewed at Theater J earlier in the semester.
    It was interesting to see the memories of women, known as A, who at 91 years old tries to recall memories of moments in her past. Some very weird stories arose from her recollections.
    The story of how she received the one bracelet I think was a bit too vivid for my liking. The whole description of his of man’s reproductive organs and the erection was just plain weird . It seems that Albee really likes to include sexual scenes in his work and at times I think he goes way too far. I am not against having sexual scenes in a play, but I think there are ways of representing the scenes rather than being son literal about it. To the point where it seems that it becomes to the overall plot of the play. I get the feeling that those scenes are just in there to sell tickets.
    I mean come on, after all theater is also a business.
    I cannot really figure out Albee’s motivations yet, neither his style. Why does he write plays the way he does? It would interesting to see his motivations behind the content of his work.

  15. The first act of “At Home At the Zoo” was took place at the home.
    The scene set up to show life at home for Peter and his wife. Peter publishes textbook and makes a decent income for a upper-middle class family. He has two daughters and a wife that seems to love him.
    But it came across that Peter does not have a wild side and lives his life in very “safe” manner. He seems to holding something back and almost preventing himself from being human and losing a huge aspect of his life.
    I think Peter’s situation applies to many people today, including myself. I think sometimes I forgot that I am a in fact an animal and human. I tend to operate as a machine. Sometimes we lose sight that being spontaneous and random is actually refreshing and is part of being an animal. Just break out of shell and just be savage, for lack of a better term, can be a good thing for the soul.
    Once again, Albee’s play did have that one very intimate sexual discussion. This one I thought was a bit funnier and not as bad to sit through as the one for “Three Tall Women”. The circumcision part was actually kind of humorous.
    Lastly, Peter’s wife wants the animal to come out in Peter and wants him to be more “wild.” But she really only has a side role.
    Overall the first act seemed like a set up for the second act.

  16. Last Thursday I had the disturbing pleasure of viewing “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” at Arena Stage. I was fairly new to the story line and sat in the audience in a constant state of perplexed intrigue. I am happy to say that this confusion has in no way lessened as I begin to grapple with the immense tension that resided on the stage after I left the theater. I say that this is a happy feeling because the play so successfully brought me out of my comfort zone that I no longer felt comfortable in my original comfort zone.

    As an advocate of human rights and a feminist in the upmost, I found myself okay with and even cheering for George’s physical abuse of a Martha. Somewhat like Hare in Via Dolorosa, this thought was one that I did not feel comfortable entertaining. But I also did not feel comfortable cheering on a verbally abusive Martha. Therefore, I initially had no place of comfort to find refuge. I was forced to situate myself in between two uncomfortable places out of some form of comfort. I realize that throughout the entire play this is where I had unknowingly resided. Cheering on hurtful games, being amused by others’ hurt and dysfunction, and writing the people off as crazy lead me to question myself. How was I any different from those on stage? They were amused by the same things that I was. The only difference was that they admitted it instead of claiming some false superiority that often accompanies the title of audience member.

    As the semester is winding down I am realizing that the experience of theater is as much about what is happening off stage as well as on the stage. How am I reacting in the moment? Is this my true nature? Or is that I am not exempt from animalistic tendencies? I am choosing to side with the latter.

    Maybe audience response is what makes a play great. I am not talking about what the critics say. How the audience grapple with the issues. How uncomfortable are they? What are they forced to think about?

  17. The second act of “At Home At the Zoo’ was a much more dramatic than the first act of the play. It seemed to have all the “meat” of the play.
    I think it was bizarre how the man just comes up to peter and starts talking, really came out of nowhere.
    To it seems that the man lived a much fuller life than Peter did. In a sense he was more of an animal and was more spontaneous. He did not have the same success as Peter, but he was a more successful animal.
    The peraketes that Peter’s family owns kept coming back into the discussion over and over again. I think this has something to do with the animal concept in the play.
    The birds, if not caged and kept as pets, would fly free in their natural habitat. But since they are caged they do are much less seen as “animals”. And in a way they reflect Peter and how he is always caged in and live a so-called “safe life” throughout his habitats and activities.
    The story of the dog could also be seen with different angles. I think the dog represented the man that Peter was talking to. The dog has still retained much of the animal as has the man.
    Although the story of zoo never came up with the guy, I think the zoo just refers the fact that animals (i.e. Peter ) is caged. At the end Peter does become more of animal by stabbing the man.

  18. At Home at The Zoo:
    At The Zoo…
    I am not sure if it was the play itself, the lack of chemistry between the married couple, or my jaded impression of bored financially stable people, all I know is that this production was not my favorite of the season. In fact it was probably my least. I found it difficult to stay awake. The second act was somewhat more interesting, but the confusion and discomfort I so readily dealt with while watching/participating in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” were not received the same during this play. I was indifferent. I did not care if I put the puzzle together. I did not care about the characters. I think that may be the main reason why I could not find some sort of connection to the play, even be disturbed by it. I am not sure if this makes me an evil person, but when Jerry purposely ran into his own knife I was not shocked because I thought he was a serial killer or suicidal. I got the sense that someone was about to die; it was just a matter of who was the victim.

    Talking to other classmates we came to the conclusion that the female lead fell short. It sounded as if she was reciting lines on occasion. I could not sense any authentic sexual tension that one would expect when discussing sex. As one classmate put it, “They made sex sound so unsexy…it sounded like she has never said ‘dick’ before.”

    Stepping back from the criticizing the work, I could point out that from a literary standpoint there were some unique themes taking place, especially as it relates to human nature and the beastly aspect of said nature. It was Darwinism at its finest. I am glad I got the chance to experience two Albee plays, even if this was not my cup of tea. I am not completely sure what is; I just know that this was not it.

  19. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf:
    Describing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf as ‘shocking’ would be a gross understatement. This performance took its audience on a maniacal ride where one experienced every emotion under the sun. From laughter to disgust, the script and its actors had me wanting to look away yet unable to do so.
    The actors playing Martha and George illustrate frighteningly honest and distressed victims of unfulfilled dreams, resentment, and an inability to escape from trapped circumstance. Their supporting characters, Nick and Honey, depict a new and slightly sheltered couple that hides their sorrows through formality and distance. All the characters of this play were powerful, but I found Honey’s character the most mesmerizing.
    Although she had a smaller role in the play, Honey stood out in her quiet moments the most. Initially characterized as a pushover housewife, Honey spirals out of control with every glass of brandy she drinks. Through her increasing degree of drunkenness, Honey reveals multiple layers of mourning, regret, shame, and general despair with her marriage. I felt that the actress caught the audience with her small comments in between the general script. For instance, in several serious moments a drunken Honey would burst out with an inappropriate remark.
    Even though Honey’s comedic performance had the audience including myself laughing, I respect the script most for delving deeper into the psyche of a supporting character. Later in the performance we see Honey more crazed than drunk when her husband tries to stop her from dancing. She states that Nick prevents her from doing this she likes, voicing some cracks in their marriage. Building upon this theme of broken marriages, both Honey and Nick reveal problems they have with one another that are hidden by masks of model behavior and silence. I find the subtleness of Honey’s expressions of feeling trapped especially interesting. In a cast of loud and violent personalities, her quiet candor captured my attention.

  20. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” is powerful because of the subject it touched. The play showed the sensation of human down beneath their surface. The plot implemented the private and public matter of marriage and displayed them through two married couples. George and Martha being the older couple lived a imaginary life. Because of the pain of not having a child and the pain of not being successful, the couple is not able to face reality. They have grudges against many things, we see this through the hatred George has towards Nick– George being old and not successful, and Nick being young and ambitious. We see this dissatisfaction towards George from Martha. On the other hand we have Nick and Honey, the two newly married couple. Their life is build upon what is untold– about the pregnancy and the fortune owned by Honey. The message being told here is really the idea of success through two different things we can have in life. One being career/wealth and the other being a child.

    Every moment of the play is disturbing to watch yet one cannot stop watching it. The game keeps the audience excited because you don’t know what to expect. There are some shocking points in the play. One that shocked me was when George came back with a shot gun. At that point I thought he was really going to shoot Martha. Every shocking points always follows with a more relaxed situation, this allows the play to control the crowd’s emotion, not giving too much thrill and not too little. At the end, the play is able to leave the audience with a feeling that cannot be articulated. It is a mixture of confusion and dislocated.

  21. “Act One”
    The title “At Home at the Zoo” tells you everything about the play. The inner part of human that will be revealed at the utmost conditions– the animal side of human. As much as we would like to think ourselves as being civil, well educated, and different from animals, we are not. The play revolves around this through two different part of human that relates us so close to animals– Sex and dominance. In the first act of the play we clearly sees this urge to break out of one self and seeking for the animal part– something aggressive. We see this through the conversation they are having about sex. The part that makes the scene exciting for the audience to watch is because sex is a very interesting topic to talk about. The two characters are uneasy to talk about this topic initially which shows the conflict between what is civil and what is animal. After a long conversation they are finally able to accept the animal part of themselves and unleash the wildness. We see this when they goes into chaotic frenzy and running around the room.

    “Act Two”
    My interpretation of Act Two of the play is the display of dominance. The characters at first seems to respect each other and tolerates each other but soon or later because of a bench, they got into a fight. The fight symbolizes the desire to dominate and the bench symbolizes the territory. The stabbing is a sign of the “animalness” in us. The play is so powerful already and it is made even more powerful when the message can be presented through only 3 actors. Lighting wise and stage wise, there are not many efforts put into this play in lighting and sound compare with plays like “The Chosen”. I think it would enhance the play experience if the second act can enforce some sort of ambient sound when the actors are in the park. Sound effects during Jerry’s narration about him and the dog can also increase the play experience for the audience. Even with limited technical support, the play did it’s job to carry out the writer’s idea.

    After watching the play, I gave a second thought on the animal side of human. I realized it is very true in many encounters we are facing in our daily life. As much as we would like to think we are different from animals, we are not.

  22. “The Three Tall Women” revolves around three versions of women at different age. A is a very old woman in her 90s. She is thin, autocratic and wealthy. B is A’s 52 year old version. She is cynical about life. C is B’s 26 year-old version. Act One of the play opens with the three major characters in a bedroom. From the conversations between the three women we are able to sense and learn about the A’s reflection on her life with a mixture of shame, pleasure, regret, and satisfaction. She recalls the fun of her childhood and her marriage, when she had an overwhelming optimism for her future. The play gets very boring for me to watch because there wasn’t much acting going on. All it was were three actress reading on the stage. Although the play is written by Albee and won many awards, I do not feel connected to the plot and therefore do not like this play.

    I believe the message from the play is to display the three different stages of human life and how one thinks differently at each stage of his/her life. A certainly has a lot to regret at this stage of her life. Her relationship with her son and husband becomes the only memory she has.

  23. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf:
    Overall I think Virginia Wolf was a good play. It made me laugh every now and then and it also had my eyes glued to the actors when there was intense arguing going on. The actors were very in character and that led to powerful performances. One thing I didn’t like was maybe the length of the play. Three hours felt a little bit too long and I think maybe the playwright could cut off a bit of the arguing scenes because I got the point after a while. This is a more personal stylistic issue but I’m not too keen on starting a story with no background information and having to constantly glean information from the play. It made me have to pay extra attention while sometimes I felt lost and couldn’t see which direction the play was going. Admittedly I also think this is what made the play good. The audience starts out having no clue what is going on and as the play progresses the audience learns more and more until ultimately the truth is revealed. The constant clues and hinting to the truth definitely made me think but I felt the truth and reason behind George and Martha’s act was somewhat weak. They did all the things they did and fought all those fights because of they couldn’t have a child and had an imaginary son? I was hoping for something amazing that would maybe lead to the reason for the title. I was a little disappointed that the title was only referenced in a recurring gag that consequently got stuck in my head.

    Three Tall Women:
    Seeing a reading at the arena stage gave a different experience than the readings before. Most of the readings I’ve seen up to then have been at theater j. I thought it was pretty cool that arena stage is doing all the plays written by a living author because historically, I’ve mostly seen plays from deceased playwrights. Three tall woman wast similar to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, at least for act one. It starts out with the audience having no clue as to what is going on, then the audience has to pay attention to the reading and try to peace clues together to figure out what is exactly going on. Eventually we pick up who the characters are and why they’re there but there was nothing more than that. It was just three woman getting together and having a conversation and recalling the old times. The play does get a little vulgar, for lack of a better word. I don’t really mind but it was a little surprising to see that in a reading, since the readings I’ve seen weren’t always so explicit. When the woman were just disjointed characters unrelated to each other, the second act ties them together as a women at different stages in her life. I thought that was a nice unexpected change from a play that was rather lighthearted in the beginning turned into a serious examination of one’s life. I liked the ending of the reading when the three woman debate about the happiest part of their life. Although not the part where A says when it ends because I think that was a little depressing. It’s interesting though to see what people view as most important at various stages of their life.

    The First Act of at Home at the Zoo
    The first act of the play didn’t quite start out as expected. I expected a more zoo related setting but was intrigued when I saw a normal house setting. As with the previous Albee plays I didn’t see the relation of the play to the title quite yet. This act very much followed the similar pattern from the previous two Albee works I’ve seen. The setting is just people conversing with one another and the audience has to pull information from the play to figure out the setting and what Albee is trying to do in this play. Another similar part to the previous works was how Albee tries to do things that other playwrights refrain from mentioning, the more savage side of human nature. He openly talks about sex and I’ve come to think that is a distinct feature of his plays. The parts of the play when it got more sexual were usually spontaneous and caught me off guard when they mentioned it. The couple was talking about one thing and then all of a sudden the husband gives a vivid recollection of his college years. I think the spontaneity was used to great effect. Just when I was starting to lose focus the play wakes you back up with something unexpected. Although being random didn’t always keep me interested. At one point when the couple break into this loose wild emotional outburst and started throwing pillows I wasn’t paying attention as closely as I was before. It was towards the end of the act and I wasn’t quite seeing where the play was going so I expected some answers in act 2.

    The Second Act of at Home at the Zoo
    Just when I was expecting more answers from the play Albee throws us to a completely different setting. The conversation with the wife doesn’t continue but he instead talks to a random stranger. It felt more like an alternate version of act one than a second act. The audience now has to try and figure out a new character half way through the play. Again I was expecting some hints to the title when the stranger mentions he went to the zoo but that didn’t last long. He starts talking about seemingly random stories about where he lives and learns more about Peter. Another feature I noticed in Albee plays it that they’re always so spontaneous. When the vivid recount of the apartment and attempted dog killing came in I felt a parallel with what happened the act one’s college recount, although I couldn’t create a connection. While it was somewhat entertaining to hear about the story I couldn’t help but wonder where is Albee going with all of this. Then something unexpected happened again. The two characters fight for a bench and one ends up killing himself with his own knife. At this point I think the actor’s acting really shined because I could feel the shock Peter had when he accidentally killed the man. When the act ended with that I still had this sense of confusion. It wasn’t until the post show talk that I understood that Albee was trying to show the more animalistic side of humans and hence the title. As a side note it was interesting to learn of a play that talks about a sexual relationship between a man and a goat.

  24. I was quite intrigued by the dysfunctional relationship between George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The human psychosis has always been a subject of personal interest, and I found myself trying to figure out the mental state of each character. By the second Act I gave up on trying to figure out the point of the play. The play portrays what would happen to individuals if all of the sudden our inhibition and self-control went out of the window. The play illustrated everything that resides within our subconscious that no one would dare to bring about in our very socially constructed world.

    The relationship between Honey & Nick what seems so sweet and innocent at the surface, turns out to be just as dysfunctional to a different degree in contrast to George & Martha’s very loud and destructive relationship as the night unfolds. I could not help develop a migraine by the third Act from all of the screaming and violence of the play. The scene where George choked Martha made me very uncomfortable as I have no tolerance towards domestic violence. Yet, Martha was emotionally abusive and I struggled to stand at their contradicting actions.

    Despite the heighten stress the play brings, the dialogue contained many comic reliefs and I saw Honey, as it would be in a Shakespearean play as the Jester of the show. The Jester may not be taken seriously, but he always holds some degree of truth, which is what Honey offered when she kept on insisting people untold their stories whether true or made up.

  25. The opening of the first act of “At Home at the Zoo” reminded me of the beginning of “Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf” since the only characters on the stage were a husband and wife. However, immediately it is evident that Peter and Anne’s relationship is in better shape than George and Martha’s. However, it is also apparent that Anne and Peter have some communication and sexual issues. Anne walks in and tries to engage Peter in conversation and Peter does not respond for what feels like a long time as he is invested in reading the textbook. Peter is portrayed as a straight-laced publisher who, while being tender and caring, is unable to fully satiate his wife in the bedroom. This demonstrated how Peter struggled with animalistic and restrained aspects of his personality. Although he seemed to be a reserved man, he, like all humans and animals, have a wild and carnal side. Peter’s uninhibited side first came out in college when he had rambunctious sex with a fellow coed. The experience shook him so much that he imposed strong self-control in every aspect of his sexual life. Later, when Peter is in the park with Jerry, Peter’s other side surfaces again when resorts to ranting with a vagabond about the ownership of a public bench. Thus, Peter experiences two types of “zoos” in the play. One is a domestic zoo, where he is almost caged and trapped by his responsibilities to his wife and family. The other is a situation where he is “othered” by Jerry and put on the spot as Jerry stands around him and relentlessly asks him personal questions about his life. In both situations Peter suppresses his inner animal instincts, in the first he suppresses his desire to have passionate sex, in the other he suppresses his desire to inflict violence upon Jerry when provoked, until ultimately Jerry asserts his own animalistic needs and ends his own sad existence. This was an interesting dichotomy to witness, and a play well acted, especially the actor playing Jerry, who had to act mad and erratic.

  26. What would you give to be able to talk to versions of your younger self? To see how you have grown and matured and how much you have learned. To talk about what went wrong and the mistakes you most regret. Three Tall Women provided an insight to what such an experience would be like, and for myself I thought it would be very intriguing, albeit scary.

    It was interesting seeing all three generations of this woman’s life on stage at the same time, beginning with her young, self-assured self. At times she seems almost embarrassed by the actions and speech of her oldest self. Then moving on to the woman when she is in her mid 50s. It’s clear she is very cynical, very sarcastic, and seems annoyed in having to care for her oldest self, but it’s obvious that she has learned a lot in the process. Finally, there is the present day woman. In her 90s, she is arrogant and rich with absolutely no filter, as is evident from the stories she tells and slurs she uses.

    Albee must have had a unique and somewhat traumatizing childhood to create a play like this. The boy that is constantly mentioned in the play is spoken of with scorn and contempt, and I imagine that he is based off of experiences that Albee felt in his own life.

    Overall, the play was an interesting look into what it would be like to be able to talk to yourself and relive the memories of your past, whether they be good or bad and it peaked my curiosity in what I would do if given such a chance.

  27. At times funny, but mainly forced and awkward, “At Home at the Zoo,” was one of the more puzzling pieces I saw this semester. Here we have the main character named Peter; an upper middle class, publishing executive, with a lovely wife, two young daughters, and a couple cats, and some parakeets. He lives a seemingly calm life, and appears to have a lot going for him. Yet he’s boring at sex. And his wife lets him know it. For an entire act they talk about how boring he is at sex, and she attempts to fire him up with some colorful language that seems fake and forced onto the audience. I know couples talk about their sex lives but I find it hard to believe that it’s done in such a manner as was presented on stage.

    Really what Peter’s wife was getting at was that he had no heart. Where was his inner beast? In act two the audience catches a glimpse for a second. As Peter meets a low class, isolated individual name Jerry, they begin to strike up a conversation. It’s obvious that the themes of social class differences and loneliness are present in their dialogue. Jerry seems to mock Peter early in their meeting about his perfect upper middle class life, as he predicts almost every facet of his existence. Eventually he challenges Peter over domination of a bench. Peter in the only passion he shows in the entire play threatens to fight Jerry over it. Screaming and yelling and hitting Jerry with his jacket, Jerry throws Peter a knife and eventually charges at him, getting stabbed in the process.

    Peter immediately loses any sense of the beast he had just second before. Rather he begins to cry and flees in panic; back to his problem free life and boring sex with his wife. Free the beast Peter. Free the beast.

  28. I will say this about Edward Albee: he sure is consistent! “At Home is the Zoo” was another challenging and exhausting theater experience. I had a difficult time connecting to Peter’s wife Anne. I think the actress portrayed the character a bit too dramatically; I found myself unable to connect to her character, and even a little distracted.
    The way Albee writes makes the conversation difficult to follow, but it’s always a stimulating experience. In the first act of the play, Anne’s desire for Peter to unleash his inner beast in the bedroom proves to be an important theme in the second act, when Peter certainly finds his inner beast and stabs Gerry to defend his reading bench. At the end of the second act, I felt conflicted. Was I happy that Peter had finally found his heart, his inner beast? Or was I sad that he had stabbed a trouble-making young man who “just wanted to talk”? Like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, I left the theater dazed and confused, but intrigued. What exactly inspired Albee’s bizarre plays? I can imagine Albee as a dark, complex, puzzling man.
    Albee’s “At Home in the Zoo” made me think about the irony of the animal inside all of us. It seems that a little bit of beast is actually a human quality.
    Personally, I liked the second act much better than the first. I found Gerry a much more dynamic character than Anne (the actor that portrayed Peter seamlessly complemented his costar in each act). The first act was a kind of boring conversation about wanting a certain animalistic passion, while the second act was actually a demonstration of the human as an animal.

  29. I was surprised at the overall reaction of my classmates to Albee’s “At Home in The Zoo”. In the two acts, Albee shows the animalistic side of human beings; powerful sex drive, instinct to maintain territory, and conversely the desire for comradery.
    Set in an upscale urban loft with some domesticated animals and sophisticated décor, the opening play shows a normal middle-class couple. Though the first act progressed slowly and involved little action, I found the deeper themes to be rather thought provoking. Showing the mundane lifestyle of a textbook editor, the play sought to elucidate the downside to civilized life. Our entire society is structured in a way to educate the animal out of us. Schools seek to educate the mind, and behaviors that are overtly sexual are considered sub-human. However, As Peter’s reflections shows, there are certain venues in which animalistic behavior are actually encouraged. The fraternity scene was, shockingly, not too dramatized.
    In the second act, I viewed the troubled character as an intellectual man whose active mind drove him to the opposite side of the spectrum. Unable to figure out the complexities of the world, he lost his mind and sought to return to our primate roots. As the drifter goes further into his story, we see very animalistic urges shrouded in intellectual lingo. The character describes in great deal his landlady’s repulsive nature, her ugliness and dumbness, but does so in a way that the human mind alone could produce. He explores the feeling of social rejection from the dog, and the carnal urge to kill the creature. As the play ends in a bloody fight, we see the limits of logic and reason, as these are replaced by the instinctual “fight/flight” behaviors. Interestingly, the desire that originally led peter to comfort the estranged vagabond was also a product of the human capacity for friendship.
    As humans, our trained minds are constantly in competition with the instincts that drove the survival of our species throughout earlier times. Albee’s work reminded me of the prevalence of this conflict in our subconscious.

Comments are closed.