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The Zoo Story (1959)

by Edward Albee

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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632424,559 (3.7)3
A collection of some of Edward Albee's earliest and most acclaimed works. The zoo story: This one-act play concerns two characters, Peter and Jerry, who meet on a park bench in New York City's Central Park. Peter is a wealthy publishing executive with a wife, two daughters, two cats, and two parakeets. Jerry is an isolated and disheartened man, 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 about his life 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. Eventually, Peter has had enough of his strange companion and tries to leave. Jerry begins pushing Peter off the bench and challenges him to fight for his territory. 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. The death of Bessie Smith: Memphis, Tennessee, 1937, a time when the South's aristocracy is crumbling amidst the deeply racist views of its citizens. At a white hospital a nurse belittles a black orderly, a polite young man eager to improve himself, and is severely condescending to an intern, a white man, who is seemingly in love with her. When the intern finally turns on her she vows to retaliate by ruining his career. The conflict comes to a head when a blood-spattered black man, a car accident victim, stumbles in pleading to get help for his woman friend who is in his wrecked car. The nurse orders him out, but the intern convinces the orderly to go with him to investigate. The nurse is furious. When they return the intern announces, in a helpless fury, that the woman is dead. The driver reveals that his woman friend was the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. The nurse admits she had heard of Bessie, but it seems her anger at the futile rescue by the intern is the only emotion she feels. The sandbox: Beginning with brightest day, the Young Man is performing calisthenics (which he continues to do until the very end of the play) near a sandbox (or sandpit) at the beach. Mommy and Daddy have brought Grandma all the way out from the city and place her in the sandbox. As Mommy and Daddy wait nearby in some chairs, the Musician plays off and on, according to what the other characters instruct him to do. Throughout the play, the Young Man is very pleasant, greeting the other characters with a smile as he says, "Hi!". As Mommy and Daddy cease to acknowledge Grandma while they wait, Grandma reverts from her childish behavior and begins to speak coherently to the audience. Grandma and the Young Man begin to converse with each other. Grandma feels comfortable talking with the Young Man as he treats her like a human being (whereas Mommy and Daddy imply through their actions and dialogue that she is more of a chore that they must take care of). While still talking with the Young Man, she reminds someone off-stage that it should be nighttime by now. Once brightest day has become deepest night, Mommy and Daddy hear on-stage rumbling. Acknowledging that the sounds are literally coming from off-stage and not from thunder or breaking waves, Mommy knows that Grandma's death is here and weeps heavily. As daylight resumes, Mommy talks about how they must move on while standing by the sandbox before quickly exiting with Daddy. Although Grandma, who is lying down half buried in sand, has continued to mock Mommy and Daddy, she soon realizes that she can no longer move. It is at this moment that the Young Man finally stops performing his calisthenics and approaches Grandma and the sandbox. As he directs her to be still, he reveals that he is the angel of death and says, "...I am come for you." Even though he says his line like a real amateur, Grandma compliments him and closes her eyes with a smile.… (more)
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» See also 3 mentions

Showing 2 of 2
This strange one-act play is the first from the playwright who went on to fame for his marital tornado “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” This is a very different beast, quiet and disturbing all at the same time.

Two men meet in Central Park in New York City. One, Peter, is reading quietly on a bench. The other, Jerry, is a volatile individual who strikes up a conversation. He begins simply enough, but soon Peter finds himself trapped in conversation with this bizarre man. As the situation escalates we find ourselves, like Peter, captivated by Jerry’s odd behavior and bizarre stories.

BOTTOM LINE: An extreme example of an individual becoming disillusioned with life and getting lost in the flow of normal society. Weird, but like a car crash it’s hard to look away.

“The high points of a person’s life can be appreciated so often only in retrospect.” – From the author’s introduction to the play ( )
  bookworm12 | Oct 9, 2013 |
Edward Albee's first play to be seen by the public.
Merriam-Webster Encyc of Lit: One-act play by Edward Albee, produced and published in 1959, about an isolated young man desperate to interact with other people. As the play opens, Peter (a publishing executive who is reading in New York City's Central Park) is approached by a stranger named Jerry. Announcing "I've been to the zoo!" Jerry proceeds to probe deep into Peter's life. He relates details from his own life--his stay in a rooming house with a bizarre landlady and her repulsive dog and his unsuccessful attempt to poison the dog. Peter grows increasingly agitated by this encounter. Jerry becomes abusive, tosses Peter a knife, provokes him into a fight, and impales himself on the knife.
  mmckay | Aug 8, 2006 |
Showing 2 of 2
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edward Albeeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Löb, KurtIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reve, Gerard Kornelis van hetTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A collection of some of Edward Albee's earliest and most acclaimed works. The zoo story: This one-act play concerns two characters, Peter and Jerry, who meet on a park bench in New York City's Central Park. Peter is a wealthy publishing executive with a wife, two daughters, two cats, and two parakeets. Jerry is an isolated and disheartened man, 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 about his life 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. Eventually, Peter has had enough of his strange companion and tries to leave. Jerry begins pushing Peter off the bench and challenges him to fight for his territory. 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. The death of Bessie Smith: Memphis, Tennessee, 1937, a time when the South's aristocracy is crumbling amidst the deeply racist views of its citizens. At a white hospital a nurse belittles a black orderly, a polite young man eager to improve himself, and is severely condescending to an intern, a white man, who is seemingly in love with her. When the intern finally turns on her she vows to retaliate by ruining his career. The conflict comes to a head when a blood-spattered black man, a car accident victim, stumbles in pleading to get help for his woman friend who is in his wrecked car. The nurse orders him out, but the intern convinces the orderly to go with him to investigate. The nurse is furious. When they return the intern announces, in a helpless fury, that the woman is dead. The driver reveals that his woman friend was the legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. The nurse admits she had heard of Bessie, but it seems her anger at the futile rescue by the intern is the only emotion she feels. The sandbox: Beginning with brightest day, the Young Man is performing calisthenics (which he continues to do until the very end of the play) near a sandbox (or sandpit) at the beach. Mommy and Daddy have brought Grandma all the way out from the city and place her in the sandbox. As Mommy and Daddy wait nearby in some chairs, the Musician plays off and on, according to what the other characters instruct him to do. Throughout the play, the Young Man is very pleasant, greeting the other characters with a smile as he says, "Hi!". As Mommy and Daddy cease to acknowledge Grandma while they wait, Grandma reverts from her childish behavior and begins to speak coherently to the audience. Grandma and the Young Man begin to converse with each other. Grandma feels comfortable talking with the Young Man as he treats her like a human being (whereas Mommy and Daddy imply through their actions and dialogue that she is more of a chore that they must take care of). While still talking with the Young Man, she reminds someone off-stage that it should be nighttime by now. Once brightest day has become deepest night, Mommy and Daddy hear on-stage rumbling. Acknowledging that the sounds are literally coming from off-stage and not from thunder or breaking waves, Mommy knows that Grandma's death is here and weeps heavily. As daylight resumes, Mommy talks about how they must move on while standing by the sandbox before quickly exiting with Daddy. Although Grandma, who is lying down half buried in sand, has continued to mock Mommy and Daddy, she soon realizes that she can no longer move. It is at this moment that the Young Man finally stops performing his calisthenics and approaches Grandma and the sandbox. As he directs her to be still, he reveals that he is the angel of death and says, "...I am come for you." Even though he says his line like a real amateur, Grandma compliments him and closes her eyes with a smile.

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