Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Peter, a successful upper-middle-class man who works in the publishing business, is reading on a bench in Central Park in New York City on a sunny summer afternoon. Another man, Jerry, an aimless, rootless outsider who describes himself as a “permanent transient,” declares that he has come from the zoo and insists on talking to Peter. Peter does not want to be bothered. He tries to brush off Jerry and get on with his reading, but Jerry confronts him to examine his life. In the course of their conversation, the audience discovers that Peter is married; has two daughters, two parakeets, and two television sets; lives in a nice neighborhood; and has an executive position in textbook publishing. When Peter questions Jerry about his life, Jerry accuses him of trying to make sense out of things and bring order to a chaotic world. Although these two men are nearly the same age, one in his late thirties and the other in his early forties, they seem to have very little in common, at least on the surface.
Jerry tells Peter that he has had only short-term relationships with women. After discussing the difference between fantasy and reality, Jerry abruptly brings the conversation back to the reason for his trip to the zoo. He proceeds to tell Peter a long, detailed story about his landlady and her dog, who are the gatekeepers of his dwelling. Jerry lives in a rooming house, and the landlady’s dog attacks him every time he comes in. He is fascinated with and...
(The entire section is 757 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Zoo Story, Albee’s first important play, was partially written on his thirtieth birthday, in 1958, as a present to himself. Albee composed the play in three weeks but then could not find an American producer who would stage it. Albee had created a highly unusual and original work in his first venture that bears comparison with Samuel Beckett’s first play, En attendant Godot (pb. 1952; Waiting for Godot, 1954). Eventually, a German production of The Zoo Story was arranged on September 28, 1959, at the Schiller Theatre Werkstatt in Berlin. Four months later, the American premiere took place—on a double bill with Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape—on January 14, 1960, at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City and ran for 582 performances. Albee won the Vernon Rice Memorial Award for The Zoo Story.
The Zoo Story is a stunning tour de force by a new playwright. It is theatrically simple yet thematically complex. The long one-act play has only two characters, strangers to each other, who meet in Central Park on a summer Sunday afternoon. When the curtain rises, Peter is sitting on a park bench reading a book. Albee describes him as “a man in his early forties, neither fat nor gaunt, neither handsome nor homely.” The other character, Jerry, walks in and sees Peter. Albee’s brief description is as follows: “a man in his late thirties, not poorly dressed, but...
(The entire section is 666 words.)
Edward Albee's The Zoo Story is a long one-act play in which "nothing happens" except conversation—until the violent ending. Shorn of much of the richness of Albee's utterly arresting language, and his astonishing nuances of psychological attack and retreat, the play can be described as follows:
A man named Peter, a complacent publishing executive of middle age and upper-middle income, is comfortably reading a book on his favorite bench in New York's Central Park on a sunny afternoon. Along comes Jerry, an aggressive, seedy, erratic loner. Jerry announces that he has been to the (Central Park) Zoo and eventually gets Peter, who clearly would rather be left alone, to put down his book and actually enter into a conversation. With pushy questions, Jerry learns that Peter lives on the fashionable East Side of the Park (they are near Fifth Avenue and 74th Street), that the firm for which he works publishes textbooks, and that his household is female-dominated: one wife, two daughters, two cats, and two parakeets. Jerry easily guesses that Peter would rather have a dog than cats and that he wishes he had a son. More perceptively, Jerry guesses that there will be no more children, and that that decision was made by Peter's wife. Ruefully, Peter admits the truth of these guesses.
The subjects of the Zoo and Jerry's visit to it come up several times, at one of which Jerry says mysteriously, "You'll read about it in the papers tomorrow, if you...
(The entire section is 1153 words.)