Albee’s “Zoo” Duo Offered By GAMUT Troupe

(L-R) Kris Laguzza, Miriam Frazier and Ross Laguzza at a rehearsal for the Edward Albee plays.

by Gene Marrano

The GAMUT professional live theater troupe has never been afraid to push the envelope a bit, or at least to introduce audiences to a work they may have never seen before – or even heard of.  They’ll do it again, perhaps, with two pieces by famed playwright Edward Albee, of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? fame. At Home at the Zoo, combined with The Zoo Story, tells two stories: At Home at the Zoo revolves around the marriage of New York City couple Peter and Ann. It ends with Peter leaving to go read a book in Central Park.

Enter Jerry, who encounters Peter in the park.  That’s where The Zoo Story picks up. At Home at the Zoo was actually written much later than 1959’s The Zoo Story, and functions as a prequel. GAMUT will stage the Albee doubleheader in the June M. McBroom Theatre at Community High School (302 E. Campbell Avenue), from June 21-23 and then again from June 28-30. Curtain is at 8pm each night; tickets are $15.00 or $10.00 for students.

Ross and Kris Laguzza, local veteran actors (and married) are Peter and Ann. Patrick Kelly – an attorney when not acting and like Ross Laguzza a member of the Big Lick Conspiracy comedy troupe – is Jerry, the man Peter encounters in Central Park.  Miriam Frazier is GAMUT’s artistic director and the director of At Home at the Zoo/The Zoo Story.

“The Zoo Story was already quite a famous play [before At Home at the Zoo was written],” noted Frazier at an early rehearsal session where the Laguzzas were still reading from the scripts, “but he meant for them to be performed together.”

Albee is known for the tension in his works; Frazier said the way he uses language is “singular…and very particular to him.” That’s also a nice way of saying that this production is intended for mature audiences. Albee’s characters tend to talk around each other said Frazier, often interrupting the other person in mid-sentence. That makes timing a challenge for the actors as well.

“A lot of the speech is halting and there’s a lot of checking with each other – what did you say? What does it mean? It’s naturalistic.” Ross Laguzza adds, “Stumbling” through partial sentences, as he puts it, makes this production a challenge.

Kris Laguzza agrees: “It is a lot more difficult to learn when it’s stilted like this.” Still, the Laguzzas are pros and will master the dialogue over the course of ten or so rehearsals. “There’s a lot of pausing and not finishing sentences,” said Laguzza, a veteran of other GAMUT productions. “You really have to know what the other [actor] is saying.”

Ross Laguzza said actors cannot just “check out” and wait for a cue line – the last word or two another actor might say before their next bit of dialogue. Albee’s writing compels them to listen. “You really have to be focused on every word.” He always found The Zoo Story fascinating, because of how “crazy it seems and how violent it gets…between the two men. The arc from sitting on a park bench to its ultimate conclusion is pretty dramatic – and pretty tragic.” The notion of doing Zoo Story in conjunction with a prequel was “a fascinating idea.”

Kris Laguzza has always “loved…the dynamics between the characters,” in Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which was turned into a famous movie for Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, George Segal and Sandy Dennis. “I was really excited about this prequel. The character of Ann is so very different for me. She’s always sort of pushing buttons, prodding and poking, trying to get a reaction out of [Peter].”

Frazier is hoping that audiences will be compelled to see these combined plays as well.  “I’ve been pretty much in love with Edward Albee for as long as I can remember,” said Frazier, who calls Woolf her all-time favorite play. Directing an Albee play has always been on her to-do list.  “I’d be very excited about seeing this play,” adds Ross Laguzza.  Call GAMUT at 540-521-6049 for more information.

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