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At Home At The Zoo sets new, gold standard for Brandeis theater

At Home At The Zoo sets new, gold standard for Brandeis theater

By Adam Lamper

Section: Arts, Featured

October 7, 2016

This past weekend saw a reasonable share of excitement on campus, as did students and other playgoers alike as they walked down the hamburger-bun-lined walkway to Merrick Theater to witness “At Home At The Zoo.” Written by (and dedicated to) the late Edward Albee, who passed away less than a week before Brandeis Ensemble Theater production’s first showing, “At Home At The Zoo” is superficially just a play about two men having a conversation on a Sunday morning in Central Park. However, it is so much more than just that.

“I chose this play because it’s been on my mind since I first read it four years ago,” said director Raphael Stigliano ’18. “It was one of the first things I read that got me really interested in theater, and I’ve been looking for a chance to see a production of it since then—but I’ve never had the chance. I’ve always felt that you should create the kind of art you want to see, and I wanted to see this play.” Stigliano certainly did this performance justice, likely instilling in many viewers the same passion he felt when he first encountered it—partly due to the cohesive and enthralling nature of the storyline itself, and largely due to the brilliance of its actors, Dan Souza ’19 and Connor Wahrman ’17.

Ultimately an allegory of class warfare, cursory judgment and human relation, it’s imperative that the lead cast be able to portray a diverse range of emotive expression, as was the case with Souza and Wahrman, who managed this to such an extent as to blur the lines of fiction and reality. Souza, as Jerry, a vagrant-esque twenty-something in desperate need of companionship, truly dominated the stage with his character’s brash and boorish personality. Wahrman’s Peter, a white-collar publisher and father of two young daughters, was represented in a more timid light, progressively becoming more and more agitated by Jerry’s offensive temperament. “I love these characters, and I love what these two actors have done with them,” noted Stigliano. ”I think they’ve both created some unique characters that I’m hoping will connect with the audience.”

“We’re trying some experimental things in terms of concept, too,” said Stigliano. “I think a lot of student theater is too afraid to take risks, so we really wanted to try some different things with this and maybe open up a few doors if we could.” These “experimental things” included many instances of breaking the fourth wall by continually making physical contact with the walls of the theater apart from the set (which was only a simplistic patch of grass and bench). As Stigliano eloquently put it in the director’s note, “We had to look at the text as a conversation between two conflicting worlds, the moment when the outsider meets the interior. Those two spaces took shape as we began to isolate the scene itself at the heart of the cold white walls of the theater.”

Altogether a great feat of acting, direction and overall storytelling, Albee’s “At Home At The Zoo” is now perhaps one of the best, if not the best, productions I personally have seen during my time as an arts writer here at Brandeis. Almost completely void of noticeable line errors, despite having up to six-page-long monologues, Souza and Wahrman delivered such compelling performances and were able to completely embody their characters in a way that is difficult to find anywhere offscreen, especially in a university-level production. It is with utmost sincerity that I recommend witnessing both these actors in action (as they are both most likely to take part in another production this year). When their talent brings them to astronomical heights, you can say that you were their fans since the beginning.

The Brandeis Ensemble Theater is an affiliate of Brandeis’ Undergraduate Theater Collective (UTC), which spans across six different clubs, ranging from musicals to sketch comedy. To witness future performances as dazzling as “At Home At The Zoo” and to support peers involved in the performing arts here at Brandeis, be sure to attend the upcoming UTC events: Boris’ Kitchen’s “Old Shit Show” on Friday, Oct. 14, and Free Play’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” from Oct. 14-16.

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