“Hey, I’ve been to the zoo.”
There is no first line in an English-language play that is harder for an actor to execute than the above. The setting a man in a suit sitting in a park on his lunch break. Another man approaches. He looks around for a bit and boom. “I’ve been to the zoo.” It’s that kind of nightmare line that has no source, no origin, other than the character’s own psychosis, which the actor must traverse before they can utter a word.
Fortunately, this is LAB Theatre. Also fortunately, this is Dennis Manahan. One of the most disciplined and emotionally connected actors in all of the Actor’s Lab, in the hands of director Peter Kalos, he manages to burst into the scene and into the line with an unnerving ease that sets the tone for the rest of the play.
Zoo Story is a psychological thriller by one of the reigning masters of the genre; Edward Albee. This most famous play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”, is over two hours of slow-building tension and unease until the final destruction. Zoo Story is much the same, but on a much smaller scale and with only two actors, one clearly out of his mind, the other unwittingly trapped in an emotional and intellectual game of cat and mouse that raises questions of masculinity, loneliness and, eventually, who the real monsters inside our society are.
Zoo Story is a New York City story, in it’s time, but the personal claustrophobia and feelings of utter insignificance that created the desperate figures who walk the streets of NYC looking for something, someone – anything – to form some kind of connection which have slowly spread to the entire globe in the years since it’s writing and created a relevance that is at once touching and alarming.
Steve Carroll is Manahan’s unwitting and unwilling victim, and his slow descent into mania as Manahan picks tiny pieces off him until he finally hits the right note to create a raging monster of him is hypnotically true to life.
The big ticket for LAB Theatre, the reason why everyone goes, is because they are one of the few consistent theatre makers in the state that consistently produce plays that make you forget you’re watching a play. With a work like Zoo Story, Peter Kalos, Dennis Manahan and Steve Carroll make for a truly harrowing experience.
Review by Max Davine for Good Vibes Melbourne