The Zoo Story
is American playwright Edward Albee's
first play; written in 1958
and completed in just three weeks.
The play explores themes of isolation, loneliness, social disparity and dehumanization in a commercial world.
Originally, it was rejected by New York City producers, therefore it was first staged in Europe, premiering in West Berlin at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt on September 28, 1959. In its first American staging it was performed by the Provincetown Playhouse in 1960 and paired with Samuel Beckett's work Krapp's Last Tape.
This one-act play concerns two characters, Peter and Jerry. Peter is a middle-class publishing executive with a wife, two daughters, two cats and two parakeets who lives in ignorance of the world outside his married life while Jerry is an isolated and disheartened man who is very troubled. These men meet on a park bench in New York City's Central Park
. Jerry is desperate to have a meaningful conversation with another human being. He intrudes on Peter’s peaceful state by interrogating him and forcing him to listen to stories from his life including "THE STORY OF JERRY AND THE DOG" and the reason behind his visit to the zoo
. The action is linear, unfolding in front of the audience in “real time”. The elements of ironic humor and unrelenting dramatic suspense are brought to a climax when Jerry brings his victim down to his own savage level.
The catalyst for this shocking ending transpires when Peter announces, "I really must be going home;..." Jerry, in response, begins to tickle Peter. Peter giggles, laughs and agrees to listen to Jerry finish telling "what happened at the zoo." At the same time Jerry begins pushing Peter off the bench. Peter decides to fight for the bench and becomes incredibly angry. Unexpectedly, Jerry pulls a knife on Peter, and then drops it as initiative for Peter to grab. When Peter holds the knife defensively, Jerry charges him and impales himself on the knife. Bleeding on the park bench, Jerry finishes his zoo story by bringing it into the immediate present, "Could I have planned all this. No... no, I couldn't have. But I think I did." Horrified, Peter runs away from Jerry whose dying words, "Oh...my...God", are a combination of scornful mimicry and supplication'.
According to a report on NPR's "Weekend Edition" on Jan. 19, 2008, Albee has expanded his play "Zoo" from one act to two. The first act was first read publicly at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference
. The move has raised controversy within the theater community because Albee is no longer allowing professional theater companies to mount the original play without the new first act. Non-professional and college theaters are, however, not bound by Albee's stipulation.
In the NPR interview Albee defended the change and the addition of a female character who is Peter's wife. Albee also noted the play was his to do as he wants.
The Zoo Story
is referenced by Ann-Margret
in the film Grumpy Old Men