Classic Plays: The Zoo Story by Edward Albee

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Hello everyone! Today we are going to talk about one of Edward Albee’s famous plays The Zoo Story. This play is a classic look into the mind and life of a societal outcast who is looking for a way out. The play in its entirety is only within one act, and yet the show itself feels incredibly full. This play has been one of my favorites of Albee’s works, and I have always admired his writing.

The show takes place in the Northerly area of central park on a bright sunny afternoon. Peter is sitting on a park bench reading his book as part of his usual routine. When along comes Jerry a man with a story. He approaches Jerry asking him if he would like to hear what happened at the Zoo. Peter responds, but Jerry is focused on his own thoughts and rarely lets Peter’s words through.

Jerry then goes on to ask Peter about such things as his family and the pets they keep. He begins to analyze Peter and his life. Pointing out that many of the choices in Peter’s life were not his own, but those of his wife and two daughters. These decisions are things such as Peter being a dog person, but owning a cat instead because of his family.

After reading into Peter and his life Jerry continues to interrupt their conversation by switching between different topics. He references the zoo story of his multiple times, but continues onto other topics before he can ever tell the story. As these ramblings continue Jerry goes on to talk about where he lives, and the vile Landlady and her equally unappealing dog.

Jerry then begins into an epic tale of his battle to win the dogs affection and then to later kill the dog.  This story is an epic in Jerry’s mind and he tells it as if his life revolves around the entirety of this story. Finally, he and the dog come to this tragic understanding of one another. Where they acknowledge each other, but never truly recognize the other.

After this Jerry makes Peter laugh and there is a moment of true joy between them. This is suddenly taken away and the whole situation is then sent into a tail spin over a bench. The play ends with Jerry laying on a bench slowly dying from Peter’s own hand.

The play is a tragic tale about life and death and the meanings of our everyday interactions between one another. The Zoo Story made its world premiere in West Berlin at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt on 28 September 1959. The show then came to premiere in the United States on January 14th, 1960 at the Provincetown Playhouse.

Eventually Albee wrote a prequel to The Zoo Story entitled Homelife.  The show is meant to be a first act while The Zoo Story is meant to be the second act. These two pieced together completes the lives of both characters and provides a much-needed backstory for Peter who is lacking a deep character within The Zoo Story. Albee believed that Jerry had been a well-rounded and completed character by the end of The Zoo Story. Albee explained: “The Zoo Story is a good play. It’s a play that I’m very happy I wrote. But it’s a play with one and a half characters. Jerry is a fully developed, three-dimensional character. But Peter is a backboard. He’s not fully developed. Peter had to be more fleshed out.”

The show overall is a wonderful play and an incredibly easy one to read. This is crucial since the show requires a few reads to fully understand the metaphors and hidden meanings within the entire show. The show is a perfect choice as well for any small theatre company to put on. It does not require elaborate scenery and can be done well in a very intimate small space. If you are looking for a new show to put on I highly recommend The Zoo Story. Otherwise go an pick up a copy from your local bookstore or library and read this intriguing show for yourself.

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