The Zoo Story
See also Edward Albee Literary Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 2, 3, 5, 9, 13, 25, 86, 113.
Albee's first play, The Zoo Story, is a one-act satire set in New York City. It was first staged on 28 September 1959, in a production directed by Walter Henn at the Schiller Theatre Werkstatt in Berlin. It received its first American performance on 14 January the following year, in a production at New York's Provincetown Playhouse, directed by Milton Katselas. The play centers on Jerry, a young drifter, who encounters Peter, a conservative publishing executive, on a bench in Central Park. Jerry attempts to force conversation on Peter, becoming increasingly more personal and direct in his questioning as the reticent Peter fails to respond. Ultimately, Jerry instigates a physical confrontation with Peter, who defends himself with a knife that the drifter has thrust into his hand. During the scuffle, Jerry purposely impales himself on the blade.
While many critics have regarded The Zoo Story as an absurdist condemnation of the artificiality of American values and the failure of communication, others have described the work as an allegory of Christian redemption in which Jerry martyrs himself to demonstrate the value of meaningful communication. Martin Esslin has cited the play's attack on "the very foundations of American optimism" as evidence for placing Albee in the context of the Theater of the Absurd. On the other hand, Rose Zimabardo has viewed The Zoo Story as operating not within an absurd Godless universe, but rather a distinctly Christian one. She has termed the work a "modern Morality play" that employs traditional Christian symbolism to present the theme of "human isolation and salvation through sacrifice." Robert S. Wallace and Mary M. Nilan, among others, have also explored the play's themes of alienation and social polarization, and Robert B. Bennett has examined its religious and spiritual content in support of his contention that The Zoo Story is a tragedy and not merely a melodrama.