The Zoo Story by Edward Albee is a one act play that can very easily be produced. Essentially all you need is two people for the cast, two park benches for the set, and a prop knife. It really should be more popular in high schools. I think I would rather watch this than sit through hormonal, pimply-faced teenagers trying to act out Macbeth.
The play is about a man (Peter) from the Upper East Side sitting on a Park bench reading a book for work (he is in publishing) when all of a sudden his peace is interrupted by another man (Jerry) who happens to be more or less the exact opposite of Peter. Jerry is the type that has “been around” a couple of times, only owns the essentials, and has more than his fair share of eccentricities.
Basically, Jerry winds up being a man who wants to die. His life has no meaning. He doesn’t want it anymore. After pestering Peter, a man with a family, a nice home (with pets) and a steady job, with stories of his life, an unlikely conversation on a park bench quickly becomes violent and deadly. Jerry dies by Peter’s hand, but only because Peter was tricked by Jerry’s tomfoolery.
I am a New Yorker, born and raised. The entirety of the play is said to take place in Central Park East up by 75th Street. Now, if you know anything about this area, then you would know that on a Sunday, when the sun is shining, this area would be swarmed with locals, tourists, kids and nannies, and even dogs being walked. There is no way that a killing could occur without anyone noticing. However, this is exactly what happened in this play. At the end, Peter walks away Scott-free, while Jerry lays dying on a bench with a knife in his chest. Is this likely? I don’t think so. This leads me to join the school of thought that categorizes this play as a “dream play” or rather, a play that occurs within the subconscious of one of the characters.
It is a stereotype well known in New York City, that those from the Upper East Side are rather stuck up, uptight and of course, well off in the money department. They also tend to be very right-wing conservative. Peter is the the representation of this stereotype, while Jerry is the stark opposite. Perhaps all this is happening inside of Peter’s head, and Jerry is a part of himself that he wish did not exist. Perhaps he is able to do with that part that he despised so much, what many of us who have something we don’t like about ourselves wish we could do: Kill that part. It’s a very powerful idea.
This play is sure to leave you with your jaw on the floor. If not, chances are you’re a right-wing conservative (joke). The images in this post are from a production of The Zoo Story produced at the Provincetown Playhouse on January 14, 1960.