SALT LAKE CITY — In 1958, Edward Albee wrote his first play, The Zoo Story, and set the standard for new American playwrights. Nearly 50 years later, he decided to add a first act to this very famous one-act play, retitled the work, Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo and further announced that professional theater companies could no longer produce The Zoo Story as a stand-alone piece, a move that shocked the theater community. In its Utah premier, The Hive Theatre Company’s production is a blistering, seething production that is not to be missed.
I’m a relative new comer to Edward Albee. I’ve seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on film. I’ve heard of many of his plays, but never actually seen or read one. But I was captivated by this play. Albee combines the banal with the unpredictable and creates an evening of aggressive conversation. The first act, entitled “Homelife,” begins with Peter (Spencer Belnap), a publishing house executive, reading a forthcoming textbook when his wife, Ann (Tiffany A. Greathouse), announces that they need to have a talk. Act two begins with Peter reading the same book on a park bench when Jerry (Jared Greathouse), an isolated and disheartened man, approaches him desperate to have a conversation with someone.
The similar frameworks of these two acts work in binding these two seemingly disparate versions of human interaction together. Director Jared Greathouse and co-director Tiffany Greathouse have created a similarly staid and static environment in which these two similar but emotionally different scenes play out. The first act slowly grows from a normal—if somewhat stilted—conversation and delves into deep and darkly intimate revelations that, while at first shocking, in some way seem to bring Peter and Ann together, if only for a moment. The second act starts from an awkward and uncomfortable beginning, and delves into the dark tormented psyche of Jerry, and pulls Peter along until he has been brought down to Jerry’s level.
Tiffany Greathouse as Ann is also charming to watch as she imbues Ann with real depth of character. There is a twinkle in her eye, even when taunting Peter, and I felt that I could see the thoughts racing in Ann’s mind. Jared Greathouse is stunning as Jerry. He has the ability to repulse and endear at the same time—a very rare ability. But his Jerry isn’t just a man on the edge. I could see the real heart and pain that he feels. He is electric in this role. His telling of “The Story of Jerry and the Dog” is mesmerizing. However, the real sleeper in this whole evening was Spencer Belnap. Peter seems at first glance to be a boring, middle-aged, upper-middle-class white guy. He is forcibly dragged outside his comfort zone by the conversation with his wife, and describes shocking details in an almost clinical manner. In the discussion with Jerry, he is mostly a sounding board for the rantings of a disturbed man. But as I thought more and more about this play, I realized that without this character’s timidity, his stalwart steadfastness, the play could have easily careened out of control. Belnap provided the axis that this plays revolves around. It is not an easy thing to do without being somehow consumed by the chaos around you.
The performance was not without its hiccups. Lines were bobbled, light were not aimed in the best way to light all the action. But it was a stunning evening. It is a play that leaves you thinking especially with its shocking ending. I have been a fan of the Hive Theatre Company since its first production, Word Play. They produce unique theatrical experiences. For anyone who loves modern American theater, this production is required viewing.