May 18 2011 12:00 AM

Riverwalk’s excellent Albee double feature is splendidly played

Here’s a challenging and convoluted notion: Write a
one-act play, and then 45 years later write a prequel that helps explain
the motivation of one of the central characters.

Yep — this is Edward Albee’s new and expanded version of
“The Zoo Story,” in which the central character of Peter, portrayed in
this Riverwalk Theatre production by Doak Bloss, comes to know why he
acted the way he did in the one-act play of so many years ago.

“At Home at the Zoo” begins in the Upper East Side
apartment of Peter and Ann, with Ann, (Marni Darr Holmes) leading her
mild-mannered husband through an increasingly deep conversation about
soul-searching intimacies and existential emptiness, about safety and
security, as opposed to adventure and risk.

Albee’s words are as crisp as nighttime thunder in this
first act, and insights follow like the brilliance of lightning in the
sky. Holmes’ manner is surgically precise and cuts through the casual
everyday banalities of a long-standing relationship to a core of
uncomfortable uncertainty that urges Peter to reveal things about
himself that he has long kept silent. Holmes displays impeccable timing
in the delivery of her lines, and Bloss responds in kind, creating a
dance of pseudo-intimacy in which their words wrap around each other and
draw them into  a surface- scratching sexual attraction that has been long missing in their relationship. 

Act One ends with a casually stated inclination by Peter
that he is going to wander over to the park, sit in the sun and read a

Act Two — the original “Zoo Story” — begins with Peter at
the park, encountering Jerry (Eric Dawe), seemingly a slightly lost and
bubbly soul who has just come from the zoo. His overly engaging manner
interrupts Peter’s reading, and increasingly involves Peter in a twisty
one-sided conversation; Jerry is, to say the least, all over the map,

Effervescence begins to transform into a kind of insanity
that is common on the streets of New York, and the resolution is
inconclusive. Bloss, while relegated to the role of being a struggling
listener in this act, does so with great tense discomfort, while Dawe
pulls out all the stops and emotes volumes of crazy stories with
abandonment and no restraint whatsoever.

Clearly, these are three of Lansing’s finest dramatic
actors. Given a play with richly textured language to enjoy, they each
deliver some of their own personal best performances to date.

The plays leave the audience with more than a handful of
unanswerable questions, chief of which is how did an actor playing Peter
in the original "Zoo Story" know how to structure his part before there
was a backstory on which to build?

“At Home at the Zoo” is an intense tango of tangled
emotions and turmoil, as the actors and writer circle each other in
ever-tightening circles. It’s a sheer delight for the audience to

’At Home at the Zoo’ and ’The Zoo Story’
Riverwalk Theatre
218 Museum Drive, Lansing
Through May 22
 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
$14 general admission; $12 seniors, students and military personnel
(517) 482-5700