Reviewed by Gillian Daniels
(Boston, MA) The Zoo Story is an uncomfortable story of a stranger in Central Park finding an audience. Peter (Rob Gustison) plays the hesitant witness to the yarns Jerry (Devon Scalisi, also the director) spins about his life. Their meeting, one that stretches the extent of the hour and half play, is mainly Jerry’s monologue.
The last play I saw at the Factory Theatre was Election Day. It was a light comedy, incidental and seemingly disconnected from anything in the real world.
The Zoo Story is a dark contrast. Jerry ruminates about both the strength and pain he finds in leading a self-described transitory existence. He refuses to censor himself, describing his lifestyle in as specific and crass detail as he can. It may not entertain the squeamish, but it will certainly stay with the theatre-goer ready to embrace tougher, more morally ambiguous material. It’s personal, awkward, and unafraid.
Jerry, as played by Scalisi, acts with his whole body. His eyes widen as he leans close to intimidate Gustison, he pulls back and slouches his shoulders when he feels ashamed, and, when he describes his landlady’s dog, he gleefully lopes around the stage on all fours.
He’s feral, a wild man who the audience knows intimately and nakedly before the piece comes to a close. Peter, meanwhile, too polite to break the social confinement of a conversation in public, remains a restrained everyman. Gustison role for most of the show is to withdraw, allowing Scalisi to dominate the stage.
This contrast provides the suspense of the story: will the characters manage to understand each other despite their differences? What will Jerry, in his desperation to talk to someone, do if they can’t?
The Zoo Story is nice and challenging. This is a play for those brave enough to explore Jerry’s loneliness as he imitates a dog for the benefit of a man on a park bench, for those brave enough to explore what isolation truly does to people.
Obviously, audiences looking for the fleeting distraction of a screwball comedy or feel-good musical should probably look elsewhere.
Everyone else is welcome.