Thursday, January 3, 2008

Back from Christmas- "Peter and Jerry"

It’s all started receding into the past- the music, the present-wrapping, the shopping, my 76 day saga of trying to get Tom’s present (ordered October 21st, arrived December 27th), cooking, cleaning, the houseguest that was supposed to come for Christmas but came for New Year’s, and, at least until the 23rd or so, trying to write at least a little.

But today, the presents are given, the guest returned home and I finished the second draft of the libretto I’ve been neglecting and emailed it off to Alan Cancelino, the composer. The one theatre thing I did make time for over the holidays was last Friday I went to see “Edward Albee’s Peter and Jerry” at Second Stage, which has since closed. I have seen many amateur productions of “The Zoo Story” (what would college drama departments do without “The Zoo Story”?), but I’d never seen an Equity production of it, nor the new first act, which was originally produced at Hartford Stage in 2004.

What a treat! Other than the Anthony Page directed “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” on Broadway in 2004 and the Larry Sacharow directed “Counting the Ways” in 2003, it is by far the best-directed Albee play I’ve ever seen. Pam McKinnon has a much stronger grasp on “Peter and Jerry” than David Esbjornson did of “The Goat” or Emily Mann did of “All Over.” The first act flies by, and Johanna Day is absolutely delightful as Ann, Peter’s wife. Peter is played by Bill Pullman. You completely believe that these two people love each other and have been married for years. The exposition is deft (of course, we’re in the hands of the master), the conflicts deep and not easily resolved, it was a joy to watch.

Then after intermission, it’s time for Jerry and the dog. The first half of it went as well as the first act had (the friend I saw it with had a similar experience). Something happened that brought the play to a grinding halt. My first thought was that because the actors had a second show, they were saving themselves for the evening performance. Then it seemed to me they stopped acting on the lines at some point, and got lost in subtext land- it all got slow and murky. My third thought was that perhaps Dallas Roberts wasn’t as generous an actor as Pullman is, and they weren’t working off each other so much as they might.

This morning as it happens, I was reading the late Mel Gussow’s biography of Albee (Edward Albee: A Singular Journey), and got to the description of the first American production of “The Zoo Story,” which starred William Daniels and George Maharis. Even that production had problems with keeping the conflict rolling all the way through. But I swear that problem is less in the text than in its execution.

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