It occurred to me last night that the essence of Newton’s third law can just as easily be applied to theatre as it can to physics, for it is in a balanced relationship between actions and reactions that separate a merely good production from being a great one. Such is the case with the IN TWO (The Zoo Story and At Home), currently on stage at the Havana through July 11th.
The Zoo Story
Written by gay American playwright Edward Albee in 1958, The Zoo Story still manages to pack a punch. From a historical context one can see how it would create a stir when first produced, but even today its central theme of the “haves versus have-nots” resonates loudly.
Peter (Benjamin Elliott), is the seemingly mild-mannered husband and father, comfortable in his Eisenhower-era lifestyle. In walks Jerry (Jason Clift), the other half of the equation, the one left on the sidelines watching others get ahead while he falls between the cracks. The zoo he talks about is the cage of circumstances he finds himself in and he yearns to be set free, even if being set free has dire consequences.
Clift easily captures Jerry’s walk on the edge – the long, dark stories keep us engaged and we watch, sometimes uncomfortably, as he quickly spirals to the devastating ending.
But in Albee’s play, Clift actually has the easier part, for Elliott must mostly find his Peter in his reactions. In the intimate Havana Theatre this is made even more difficult as we are almost on-top of the actors, finding ourselves watching Elliott’s reactions just as much as Clift’s actions. While Elliott does his best here, Director Katherine Swinwood permits Clift to upstage Elliott, giving us little insight into the Peter character. Ironically Jerry says to Peter at one point “don’t react Peter, just listen” but by taking that to heart we are missing half the story.
Carol (Cailtlin McCarthy) and Paul (Dustin Freeland) are a pretty typical young couple, not without its problems. But Carol’s jealousy over Paul’s relationship with friend Jean results in an onslaught of mean things being said, raised voices and salad thrown, as Carol and Paul have it out.
Unlike in The Zoo Story, where action overshadows reaction, here we find the opposite. In At Home, McCarthy and Freeland do a better job reacting to their chaotic and specious argument, lacking some nuance in the action of the argument; it is easy to play angry loud, it is quite another to play angry quietly. While director Anton Lipovetsky does a good job moving his actors around the stage, I wish he had spent a little more time with them on developing shading in their characters.
Interestingly both The Zoo Story and At Home have companion pieces. I can’t help but wonder if both pieces presented here might have worked better had the group decided to present just one of these plays as a whole.
Overall this group of current and recent graduates from Studio 58 do a good job. Perhaps with a little physics, it will be great.
(Note: Due to schedule conflicts, I was invited to review this play on a preview night.)
IN TWO (The Zoo Story & At Home)
7 – 11 July 2010
Tickets are $12 each. For more information or to reserve tickets email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 604.318.8761.