Wednesday, 17 July 2013

At Home at the Zoo, Something Borrowed, Smith's Alternative

Something Borrowed is a new theatre company - Smith's Alternative is a new performance venue - and Edward Albee's "At Home at the Zoo" is a 50% new play (it's simultaneously Albee's earliest and most recent play - "The Zoo Story", which forms act two, is his oldest, while the first half, "Home Life" is his most recent). So much for nobody doing new work  in Canberra...

I was invited to a preview of "At Home at the Zoo", so ... this isn't so much a review as a couple of general comments about the show (as what I saw wasn't quite a finished production). But to start with the play itself - I've got to be honest, I'm not sure whether Albee's extension entirely works, the first half seems a little static and doesn't quite achieve it's stated purpose, to make Peter, previously "man on park bench", a richer character. It's probably going to join the circuit of less-interesting curtain raisers such as "White Liars" (the other half of Peter Shaffer's "Black Comedy"), "Duck Variations" (the other half of Mamet's "Sexual Perversity in Chicago") and "Harliquinade" (the other half of Terrence Rattigan's "The Browning Version") as things-written-to-fill-out-an-evening, rather than successful plays in and of themselves. There are diverting moments in the script and in the performances by Kate Blackhurst and John Lombard, but this is a script that takes a long time to warm up.

The second half, though, is a completely different animal. I've seen a previous production with Canberra theatre regulars Jim Adamick and Jay Sullivan (well, Jay's now a standup, but at the time he had been doing a fair bit of theatre) and hadn't really enjoyed it, but this version comes alive. Graham August's Jerry is a much more actively engaging scene partner (as compared to the WASP-ish distance in act one between Blackhurst and Lombard) meaning that we can get fully engaged in Albee's fifty-year old confrontation on a park bench. There are so many more overtones in "The Zoo Story" - Peter is threatened on all sides, by Jerry's sexual allusions, by the obvious class difference between them, by Jerry's verbal diorrehea ... it's great to see this played out, up close and personal, by a skilled team.

This is sold out for opening night, and unfortunately I won't be able to make it this Friday or Saturday. But hopefully there'll be plenty more opportunities to see the work of Something Borrowed, and plenty more entertaining productions to come.

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