Theatre Hopkins' evening of Albee has some strengths and weaknesses


Although "The American Dream" and "The Zoo Story," two brilliant one-act theater works by Edward Albee were first produced in 1960, the plays have not lost their timeliness and zing.

Being staged by Theatre Hopkins through March 15, Albee's insightful symbolic pieces offer an existentialist message on society's hypocritical values and the cataclysmic consequences of alienation.

Directed with a light, ironic hand by Suzanne Pratt, the first presentation, "The American Dream," is a scathing satire, in Albee's own words, "on the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy keen."

In the surrealistic "Dream" we come upon a well-to-do suburban couple, nauseatingly referred to as "Mommy" (Betty Corwell) and "Daddy" (Alan Hogle), who torment sly, old fox "Grandma" (Marie Ipes) by threatening to send her to a nursing home. One illuminating aspect in this work is Albee's championing of old age.

The old lady is sharper than her ruthless, overbearing, self-indulgent daughter and spineless son-in-law. She sees them for the shallow, materialistic fools they are.

Everything is inverted here: the conversation - the social graces. Cruelty perpetuated by the so-called ideal American family on its own members is accepted practice. Sharp pundits are exchanged (mostly by Mommy) with a mysterious female guest, Mrs. Barker (Irene Patton), who does not know why she is there.

The dream life is complete with the arrival of The Young Man (Jack Manion), a perfect robotic specimen who, evidently, is replacing the defective "son" the couple "destroyed" years ago.

In an impressive performance, Betty Corwell, with her constantly mirthless grin and stormtrooper mentality sets the proper tone for this parody on the emptiness of life.

Hogle is properly henpecked and Manion a dazzling version of the American Dream. But Patton is too static, not very comedic, as the bewildered Mrs. Barker.

Ipes is believable as Grandma but the actress needs much stronger projection of character to be the worthy adversary for her mean-spirited daughter.

The play, "Zoo Story" (also directed by Pratt) is the strongest and best written of the two. It is a searing tragedy cloaked in sardonic, absurd humor that shows the widening breech between the "haves" and the "have nots."

In this, a dignified businessman, Peter (Greg Seagle), is contentedly reading a book on his favorite park bench one pleasant Sunday afternoon.

Along comes the disturbing presence of Jerry (Tom Blair), a man who has just been to the zoo and is anxious to tell Peter all about it along with a long tirade on all the injustices visited upon him by ordinary life.

As Jerry pours out his heart to the fascinated Peter (a comfortable yuppie with a wife, two kids, two cats and two parakeets) we see the desperate loneliness of this unfortunate character who cannot communicate with anyone, even a dog. Just above the poverty level, he lives in a cheap boarding house where assorted degenerate characters dwell.

From the first we must see that Jerry has a purpose, some dark plan in mind. This element is lacking in Blair's performance. Although Blair does better in the last part of the play he is flat, too matter-of-fact throughout. Missing are the constant quick physical moves and the big, mercurial mood swings that make this character tick.

The audience should also sense an air of potential violence connected with this man. He must stalk and taunt Peter into the final hair-raising moments, always building to the ultimate climax.

On the whole Seagle does well but we must also see in Peter something fey, some flawed quality. Why would he stay around what might become a very dangerous situation?

Seagle uses bad technique when he keeps his legs crossed during tense, dramatic moments. His reaction should be geared to possible flight.

But both "The American Dream" and "The Zoo Story" make for an arresting Albee evening.

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