“Whyever would you want to marry a man who published textbooks, I might’ve been asked. I don’t know, it might be fun.” Peter (Robert Sean Leonard) and Ann (Katie Finneran) live comfortably on East 74th Street with two daughters, two cats, and two parakeets. Their marriage, described by the content husband, is, as they both wished, “a smooth voyage on a safe ship.” Peter is a sweet, unexcitable man whose attention is often elsewhere. Ann has found that years of domestic tranquility are a bit too smooth and a tad more safe than she’d prefer.
Katie Finneran and Robert Sean Leonard
In the course of a seemingly offhand conversation, the two start talking about cleaning fireplace irons and segue to Ann’s dream about having body parts hacked off and Peter’s recently noticed physical anomaly. She says she’s happy, he says he’s happy, but there are hairline cracks. They admit to never discussing “…the things wrong about which nothing can be done.” The couple’s sex life occupies the rest of the conversation, but actual issues are imagination and openness. It’s realistic, warm, amusing, and to the outside observer, worrisome.
Both actors are utterly natural. Leonard is expert with silence, facial expression, and small, exquisitely articulate hand movements. Reserve and embarrassment are as palpable as affection and, ultimately, confusion. Finneran is a constant delight. While Peter barely shifts in his chair, her physical fluidity manifests inhibition, yet no move seems staged. Thought subtly shows on the actress’s bright face. Reactions are wry, loving, unsettled.
The Zoo Story
Robert Sean Leonard and Paul Sparks
Peter takes a book to a bench he frequents in Central Park. Approached by Jerry (Paul Sparks), he at first ignores the scruffy man, then, gradually allows a breach of privacy. The provocative stranger lives in an Upper West Side rooming house that sounds like a temporary homeless residence. There’s beaverboard between his room and the next. Tenants are colorfully motley. Peter discovers this (and is shocked) after a prolonged period of answering Jerry’s often too personal questions and nodding during the his rambling monologue. Is he subconsciously spurred to do this by Ann’s accusations of conservatism?
The mysterious street person is theatrical, insightful, and vaguely threatening. He calls himself crazy, notes Peter’s education while not admitting his own, yet is aware of Baudelaire and uses words like misanthropic. A mimed story about a vicious dog is worth coming to theater. Peter is mesmerized. Despite ample chance to exit, he uncharacteristically loses control caught up in the dangerously escalating situation.
Paul Sparks and Robert Sean Leonard
Paul Sparks is terrific. His quicksilver performance is like watching a fine jazz musician. Riffs start and stop, speed up and slow down with irrational precision. Isolated phrases are yelled or arrive with an accent. The actor moves like a suspicious animal; a restless dancer. We never doubt Jerry’s in the throes of something ungovernable. While inclination is to want Peter to run, we too are riveted…until too late.
Director Lila Neugebauer has encouraged performances like a capella vocals. Nothing interferes with or distracts from the inhabited reality of three people before us. Every move is dictated by the moment. Focus is absolute. Fastidious and discriminating work.
If one were writing a thesis on playwright Edward Albee, these two one-acts, written 45 years apart, would be an excellent example of range. The Zoo Story, initially titled Peter and Jerry, emerged with youthful spit and vigor in 1959. Its prequel, Homelife, a more mature and thoughtful piece, was commissioned by The Hartford Stage in 2004. The two pieces fit so well Albee’s estate now insists their being performed together.
Andrew Lieberman’s uber-minimal Set – artistic unraveling? – works well to keep our attention on characters.
Several instances of false slapping are unfortunate as is the final physical tussle. (Unkledave’s Fight-House)
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Katie Finneran and Robert Sean Leonard
Edward Albee’s At Home At The Zoo: Homelife & The Zoo Story
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
480 West 42nd Street
Listen to Alix Cohen talk about reviewing theater on WAT-CAST.
The young cast and creative team of New Georges’s production (the debut of Hilary Bettis’s Alligator) creates some of most unnerving, operatic theater I’ve seen this year. Prepare for deception, desperation, primal instincts, wrenching love, graphic violence, astonishing psychological insight and vivid articulation. Add sex, a gun, bloodied animals and relentless surprise – accompanied by trenchant music. Brava.
Whomp! Assailed by electric bass, keyboard and drums, we motley tourists are seduced and galvanized by an evangelistic bally (pitch) Weeeeelcome, weeeeelcome, weeeeelcome ya’ll … I hope ya’ll are ready to be amazed here today. Are ya ready? I said are ya ready? Oh now folks, I can’t hear ya!…Prodded, the audience yells back affirmatively.
If the Florida Everglades had a wrong side of the tracks, we’d be there. Ty (Dakota Granados) has ripped arms, ripped jeans, and ripped boots. He wrestles alligators. ANYTHING at any moment could go wrong! There could be blood! There could be buckets of blood!…
At the other side of a circular pit of murky water, his snarling twin sister, Emerald (Lindsay Rico), looks on with contempt. She’s drunk. Always. Emerald, Ty tells us, can read alligator minds. She can also, it seems, summon the creatures. A blazingly primitive dance ensues. In the pit. The girl faces a slatted door from beyond which comes intermittent hissing. We’re riveted.
After an (unseen) show, the misfit siblings blame one another for poor business. Emerald has a mouth like a crude truck driver who swallowed a thesaurus. Having mostly raised themselves, they’re slavishly codependent, though in denial. We don’t learn strengths and burdens till much later. Palpably visceral fighting – in the wet pit – flows organically from expletives. Emerald removes her costume and wig demanding Ty go into town and steal more whiskey. She disdains food.
Dakota Granados, Lindsay Rico
Lucy (Talene Monahon), a self avowed “searcher”, appears with her duffle bag when Ty leaves. She’s seen the show and, mesmerized by Emerald, declares unconditional obeisance. (The character talks like a Ferlinghetti poem – endless colorful impressions with minimal punctuation.) All the object of her adoration wants, however, is liquor – which the stranger just happens to have. “I stole the bottle from an old man in Australia who turned his back to pee.” As long as Lucy can supply, she’ll be tolerated. In doing so with tenacious artifice, she inadvertently affects every relationship in the play.
Ty doesn’t return that night. He’s spending time with childhood best friend Danny (Julian Elijah Martinez), whose football scholarship provided escape to a life of egotistical excess on a silver platter. I won’t tell you about the men’s ungovernable bond, which ricochets with the impact of a pinball made out of a grenade.
Meanwhile, we observe simple minded Merick (Samuel H. Levine), and his “princess” Diane (Lexi Lapp), a wispy, solitary girl who volleys back elaborate fantasies of pink castles filled with babies. Merick has enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve to prove manliness to his father. “My recruiter says everythins’ just like a giant video game and I’m really good at video games.” The Corps is sure to eat this innocent alive. Corruption touches him before then, but with counter-intuitive results.
Samuel H. Levine, Lexi Lapp
The last inescapable, spellbinding connection is that of Emerald and an Alligator (Rex – Bobby Moreno) who haunts the scenario as if Captain Hook’s beast were conjured by Jung or Baudelaire. Whether the eloquent, savage presence is actual doesn’t matter a whit. He was here in the Paleocene Age and will remain after we’re all gone – Emerald’s alter ego and walking death. Jessica Scott’s fabulous puppet/costume melds creature and actor. Its controlled jaw, spilling gut, and a dangling piece of plastic can holder, I gather the reptiles can’t digest, add immeasurably.
Playwright Hilary Bettis interweaves her embattled characters with unerring, hell bent aptitude. How she knows what she knows is a mystery. The variety and credibility of even her most outrageous invention is startling. One lengthy description of pig slaughter is about as evocative as it gets. Language is gloriously rich and raw, never inappropriate to context.
Bobby Moreno (background), Talene Monahon, Lindsay Rico
It would be unfair to call out only one or two players in such a splendid ensemble.
Lindsay Rico (Emerald) blazes through the piece at 150% commitment, as if possessed. A virtuoso performance.
Dakota Granados (Ty) morphs seamlessly from bravado to heartrending emotional casualty.
Samuel H. Levine and Lexi Lapp balance each other’s ability to personify naivete and vulnerability. Levine’s unexpected awakening is a nuanced pleasure to watch.
Julian Elijah Martinez’s Danny and Talene Monahon’s Lucy have less visible trajectories. Martinez’s accent is a bit hard to understand at the outset. The actor dramatically comes into his own in agonized conflict. Monahon seems less purposefully wiley and hard than suits her character.
Bobby Moreno’s Alligator is Shakespearean. We don’t need to see the performer’s face to be utterly affected.
The company throw themself into inhabiting Bettis’s world both literally and theatrically. I imagine most have multiple bruises and are prone to catching cold. Director Elena Araoz has done a masterful job brimming with creativity, wonder, and pith.The artist is as accomplished with character as she is with visuals and pacing.
Fight Direction is painfully real (UnkleDave’s Fight-House). Accents are not only pristine, but all of a type. (Dialect Coach-Blake Segal) Ari Fulton’s Costumes make one want to bathe.Samantha Shoffner’s Props and Blood Effects are cringe-worthy. Scenic Design by Arnulfo Maldonado manages to be both minimal and redolent. Use of a steep stairway far from the pit (providing view) and doors behind which the Alligator (and band) lives are very effective. Amith Chandrashaker’s Lighting haunts.
Don’t miss this extraordinary production.
Photos by Heather Phelps
Opening: Bobby Moreno, Lindsay Rico
New Georges presents
Alligator by Hilary Bettis
Directed by Elena Araoz
Original Music by Daniel Ocanto, Graham Ulicny, Sean Smith
ART NY Theaters 502 West 53rd Street
Through December 18, 2016