Currently playing upstairs in Chaplins Pub on Hawkins Street in Dublin 2 is the Judder Theatre production of Edward Albee’s first play ‘The Zoo Story’.
Written in 1958 this one-act play concerns two characters, Peter and Jerry, who meet one Sunday afternoon on a park bench in the Phoenix Park in Dublin – Central Park in New York was the original setting. Peter is a wealthy publishing executive earning 200,000 euros a year. Married, he has a wife, two daughters, two cats, and two parakeets. He sits reading a book (Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘David and Goliath’ – an appropriate choice for what is about to unfold) and minding his own business. Jerry approaches him. Jerry is an isolated and eccentric bearded man who strikes up a conversation with the unresponsive Peter – imposing on his peaceful state by interrogating him and forcing him to listen to stories about his life and the reason behind his visit to the zoo that day. Jerry lives in a boarding house in Palmerstown and tells tales of his housemates, his lustful, alcoholic landlady and her vicious dog.
Eventually, Peter tires of the encounter and tries to leave. Jerry does not respond well to this rejection.
As the pandemic (or at least the lockdown) draws to a close, the theatre world is back with a vengeance. It was with great anticipation that I attended Chaplin’s Bar this evening, where in the upstairs space Judder Theatre is staging the one act play ‘The Great War’ by Neil LaBute.
Judder Theatre has been producing plays since 2018. After the two year plague, this is Judder’s first production since the world reopened. Originally its plays were staged in Doyles, before moving to its present home upstairs on Hawkins Street. The upstairs theatre is a comfortable and intimate space – the audience is like an observer in the room immersed in the action, rather than the distanced onlookers in a more traditional. For a play like ‘The Great War’ this is very effective.
The lights come up. A man and a woman emerge onto the stage and sit on the sofa. From the first words it is clear that this is a couple at war. Or to be more accurate, this is a soon to be ex-couple. In the process of obtaining a divorce they decide to bypass the lawyers for an evening, to decide among themselves, how to split the marital estate. There’s one, rather overwhelming problem however – they cannot stand the sight of each other. As they down hard liquor, barbs and insults are traded. They lament the nine years they have wasted on this broken relationship. Nothing is off limits. Bitterly condemning each other for squandering each other’s youth and beauty, neither seems ready to forgive or forget, using this meeting as yet another chance to tear a strip off each other.
It’s hilariously funny. Anyone who has endured a breakup will identify with the frustration and regret that is on display here – although perhaps not to the same vituperative effect.
To complicate matters, they have two children. How will the decisions they make on their future affect the boys? I won’t give any spoilers but what they reveal to each other about their thoughts and feelings isn’t precisely what the marriage guidance counsellor would consider mature or responsible.
The couple is played with relish by Gertrude Montgomery and Vincent Patrick. The onstage chemistry between them is electric – although you’d be in fear for them with the toxic atmosphere and brutal insults. Funny, sharp and with great timing they are a very effective couple in conflict.
Directed by Shaun Elebert this blackly comic play runs until Saturday at 6.30pm in Chaplin’s Bar on Hawkins Street.