The Zoo Story
What We Liked
What We Disliked
Loneliness. Failed communication between human beings. The inability of a man to interact with his dog. The meek, reticent reader and the unpolished, acerbic vagrant. The deadly fight over a park bench. The fall of an ordinary man to a state of absolute imbecility. And the unfinished story about what happened at the zoo. That’s Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story”, presented by THEATRICIAN.
This absurdist play circles around two characters, Peter and Jerry- the former, a married, middle-aged publisher who has made a habit of sitting on a certain bench at Central Park every afternoon and read, and the latter, Jerry, an antithesis of Peter- a loner living in squalor and extremely unhappy. On this particular day, Jerry turns up and proceeds to disrupt Peter’s peaceful me-time with the ominous sentence, “Mister, I’ve been to the Zoo!”
The theme of lack of communication is established with this line itself as Jerry has to shout at Peter to grab his attention. Peter eventually gives in to Jerry’s pestering and agrees to lend a ear to what the latter has to say. What ensues is an emotionally amusing conversation which shows the kind of deep impact one’s opinions can potentially have on the opinions and outlook of another. This swerving, seemingly one-sided conversation veers to confrontations and their minds’ darkest recesses in just an hour. Soon, Jerry starts abusing Peter with frank, invasive questions. In “The Zoo Story”, manners are forsaken for stark truths that only highlight the dangerous repercussions of absolute honesty.
Jerry’s monologue, “The Story of Jerry and THE DOG” comes across as very engaging, not only because of the dark humour it spells, but also because of the powerful verbal and non-verbal interaction between the two actors on stage. Meanwhile, the bench (on which Peter is currently sitting), as it appears, is his only retreat from his routine life consisting of a wife, children, a cat and a pair of parakeets.
The two leads, Tathagata Chowdhury and Deborshi Barat were highly believable in their portrayals, giving life to the characters of these two very different New Yorkers. Deborshi Barat gives an astonishing performance as Jerry, while Tathagata Chowdhury complements his character of Peter, showing a great mix of pride and vulnerability. The two shared palpable chemistry as the light-hearted exchange quickly escalated to extremely personal terrains. Engaged in their characterisations, the hour-long play flies by, leaving the audience enraptured in its “absurdity” and brilliance.
The set design is minimalist- with only a wooden park bench, delineating space in its most basic form. The only other props are- a smoke-pipe and a book. Technically, there is very little ‘action’ in The Zoo Story, but so much of the same happens in the one hour that you almost feel like you’re being raced through emotional extremes.
From a light-hearted, random conversation, the play leaps quickly to an absurd duel over a park bench to an equally absurd, but stark suicide. Jerry impales himself on a knife during the duel, though the cause is never explained. Jerry’s last words were “Oh…My…God”, uttered in scornful mockery.
So was Jerry’s death a desperate supplication to the god who failed to give him the necessary cure for his alienation? Or was Jerry merely a lunatic wanting to cause needless mental anguish to a victim?
The Zoo Story is an amusing, thought-provoking, and a shocking examination of an afternoon encounter between two strangers at a park. A terrific show that leaves you asking “why?” and “how?” Director Tanusree Das gives you a lot to ponder over at the end of the hour.