The picture that I took of the Playbill is, I believe, reserved only for social media brags that you’re about to see Hamilton but whatever. I went to see Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo. It’s his one act Zoo Story with a first act written as a prequel, called Homelife.
I hadn’t been to a play – Broadway or otherwise – in a while and I just felt like I should take advantage more advantage of living in New York. I saw an ad online. The tickets were only thirty bucks and Robert Sean Leonard – Neal from Dead Poet’s Society, who, no matter what he does will always be Neal from Dead Poet’s Society to me – was going to be in it. I’d read Zoo Story but never seen it performed.
The set was sparse, with a reading chair and a lamp for the first act and four park benches for the second act. The back, sides, and floor of the theater were white with what looked like pencil scribbles, making me think of modern art in the home setting of the first act and graffiti in the park setting of the second.
Robert Sean Leonard was the center of the play as Peter but he had the least to do. Except for a comically bizarre monologue about his circumcision and dark one about a sexual experience in college, he was mostly listening. At first, he was listening to his wife Ann, played by Katie Finneran. I felt like I knew her from somewhere but had no idea where (and if you know me, you know that is very very rare). She was fantastic as the wife who simultaneously craved passion but who was also basically content and resigned to her life.
As I said, I had never seen Zoo Story performed, so, I had never seen the character of Jerry embodied by anyone. Paul Sparks was mesmerizing. He ambles on stage, looking either hipster or homeless (a distinction often blurred in real life) and begins his assault on Peter. He is crazy, funny, scary, intelligent, tragic and I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.
I’ve always loved going to plays.
The first musical I ever saw was Company at the JCC in Rochester, NY. My mother played Joanne. I had no idea what any of it was about but I knew I liked it. I liked the black set and I remember seeing the actors after the show was over, striking the set and how they seemed so normal, not like the larger than life people on stage. It wasn’t disappointing, it just made me respect plays. Whatever that spell was that was cast on me in the audience, it worked. That was cool to me.
My parents and I went to New York when I was in the seventh grade. We saw I Hate Hamlet with Evan Handler and Jane Adams. (A few weeks after we saw it, Evan Handler would walk offstage in the middle of a performance because his co-star Nicol Williamson hit him with a sword.) We also saw Meet Me in St. Louis, Miss Saigon, and City of Angels. I loved all of them.
After I moved here my parents visited and we saw Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (I guess I’d seen Albee before) with Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner. I’ve seen The Lion King and The Book of Mormon. I’ve seen The House of Blue Leaves with Ben Stiller and Edie Falco. I’ve even seen plays called Cock and The Motherfucker With the Hat.
Like most New Yorkers, I try to avoid 42nd Street in Manhattan but it’s nice in small doses. The Signature Theater is a modern space of concrete and wood, unlike any other theater I’ve been in. The usher was a young woman, with a strawberry blond braided side ponytail. “Your seat is right over there, the lone one in the row.” She laughed a little after she said, “lone one.”
There was a line in Homelife where Peter says to his wife – and I have to paraphrase – that we decided, maybe even before we met, on a nice journey. It was interesting and seemed like something my father might have said. It made me sort of yearn for a partner with whom to have a reckoning. And then Jerry in Zoo Story, for all his madness and tragedy and conflict with a dog, just wanted to connect with someone or even something.
Even when going alone to a play about loneliness, there’s still a sense of have an experience with people. I need to go more often.