Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

The Zoo Story
San Diego Actors Theatre
Review by David Dixon | Season Schedule

Also see David's review of Hand to God

Fred Harlow and Byron LaDue
Photo by Dmitri Diakov for San Diego Actors Theatre
2017 has been quite the year for site-specific theatre in San Diego. La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls Festival and the 2017 San Diego International Fringe Festival included several plays that were featured in locations such as bars, hotels, and the San Diego Central Library. Just like those events, San Diego Actors Theatre is presenting a play in a space not often associated with live entertainment. The company's interpretation of Edward Albee's The Zoo Story uses a bench in Pioneer Park in Mission Hills to bring a fresh spin to the dark tale. This production feels intimate, despite the outdoor park setting.

Toward the close of a typical weekend, a seemingly happily married and normal publishing executive named Peter (Fred Harlow) sits on a Central Park bench to read a book. Once he starts reading, a loner, Jerry (Byron LaDue), randomly starts talking to him. Although Jerry promises to share a memorable anecdote about his time at a zoo, he abruptly reveals information about his personal life. Peter becomes disturbed and unsettled very quickly after meeting the strange man. Although his feelings toward the antisocial New Yorker are mostly negative, Peter continues to learn about Jerry's world.

Pioneer Park is utilized in creative ways by founder/Artistic Director Patricia Elmore Costa. Introductory moments, with the two central characters in this roughly 70-minute rendition, are presented in an unnerving style. Costa stages Jerry's first appearance by immediately suggesting that he is forcing himself into Peter's existence, with an awkward entrance that makes it seem like he's practically stalking the publisher. Her blocking becomes more surreal as later situations become increasingly comical and otherworldly.

Harlow and LaDue are uncomfortably absorbing to watch and to listen to throughout their abnormal conversation. Peter's frustration with Jerry was a little overplayed by Harlow early on in the first performance, but he soon became effective in showing the mixed emotions the play calls for. Peter spends extended periods of time listening to Jerry, and finds himself being shocked, appalled, and occasionally amused at various moments during their discussions. Reactions conveyed by Peter are ones that most people would typically have, had they met Jerry. While far from relatable, LaDue's performance as Jerry is reminiscent of those peculiar individuals who love talking to strangers. There are many instances when the actor says something that sounds profound, only to follow it with statements that come across like the funny ramblings of a madman.

This production is in honor of the nearly 60-year anniversary of Albee's first major script. Almost every line feels modern and relevant. Similar to other tales from the late playwright, such as Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Seascape, his writing displays a lot of unexpected humor. Several of Jerry's rants are so unusual and bizarre, that the only natural way for one to react is to laugh. While comedic moments are frequent, The Zoo Story is far from a traditional comedy. Not too much time passes before theatregoers realize that Jerry isn't a truly contented man. A chance for human connection might be a noble goal, but that doesn't change the fact that he seems dangerously desperate to make some kind of impact in Manhattan.

Costa is giving San Diegans an exciting opportunity to see a well-known drama in an unconventional theatrical space. Her directorial vision honors the intelligent prose from a brilliant dramatist.

San Diego Actors Theatre presents The Zoo Story through November 12, 2017. Performs Sundays and Saturdays at Washington Place and Randolph St, San Diego CA. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased online at or by phone at 1-858-268-4494.