Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: At Home at the Zoo

James McMenamin as Jerry and Jeff Allin as Peter in the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater production of At Home at the Zoo March 4 – April 24, 2011. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Forty-five years separate the two acts of At Home at the Zoo, though in terms of the play’s action it’s probably only an hour. The second act is The Zoo Story. Written in 1958, it’s the play that assured Edward Albee’s genius. The first act is Homelife, written in 2004 as an exploration of what happened earlier in the older play.

I wish he’d left it alone.

The chief joy of seeing At Home at the Zoo, presented at Arena Stage as part of the Edward Albee Festival, is that second act. Featuring a lightning rod performance by James McMenamin as the mysterious Jerry, it’s a speedy and dangerous duel between action and reaction as he plays off the controlled listening of Jeff Allin’s erudite Peter. The entire stage comes alive with this act, a true evocation of why Albee is still revered today as one of our greatest playwrights.

But you have to get through the first act. I recommend caffeine. If you can make it through without your eyelids drooping too much, your energy will be revived by the tension of a riveting second act. Don’t give up. It’s worth it. Continue reading

Entertainment, The Features, We Love Arts

We Love Arts: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

(left to right) Ensemble members Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Directed by Pam MacKinnon. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

We’ve all had those nights we don’t want to end, when the party moves down the street into the afterhours, only to sputter out around dawn when guests blearily enter back into reality. Sometimes those parties are wildly beautiful, other times they are the stuff of nightmares. Friendships implode, relationships fracture – the whole evening becomes a nuclear bomb which leaves you shaking at the end, repeating to the empty space, “What the hell just happened?”

You could say I’m familiar with those kinds of nights. Which is why I spent most of the three hours at George and Martha’s afterhours alternately laughing and crying in recognition of the ultimate power struggle party. Since its Broadway premiere in 1962, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf has continued to shatter audiences with the ugly truth – we’re all capable of total war in relationships. Some of us may even relish it.

Presented by Chicago’s brilliant Steppenwolf Theatre Company as part of Arena Stage’s Edward Albee Festival, this production is simply not to be missed. There’s a complete dedication to the realism of Albee’s script that makes everything passionately alive, from Todd Rosenthal’s tired living room set, crowded with books and booze, to the acting master class delivered by Tracy Letts and Amy Morton. That dedication sucks the audience in and makes us all culpable. You’ll feel dirty afterwards, like a host surveying the piles of empty bottles and broken glass.

Don’t let that stop you from joining this party. From “Hump the Hostess” to “Get the Guests,” it may be a night in a Machiavellian mine field, but it’s also hilarious.  Continue reading