The world premiere of Homelife, a new one-act commissioned as a prequel to The Zoo Story, provided a gala event to close the fortieth season of the Hartford Stage Company, where Albee is the most frequently produced playwright after Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. In program notes, Albee revealed that he remains "quite happy" with The Zoo Storybut welcomed this opportunity to flesh out the character of Peter, as a corrective to the "minor flaw" that, in the 1959 piece, Peter's character was rather "sketchily drawn" and the audience was limited to Jerry's view of him. While either act could be performed alone, the two together under the title Peter and Jerrycreated a full-length evening of theatre that was more subtle and provocative than either piece in isolation.
Two minor changes to the text of The Zoo Storyallowed both plays to be set in the present. Peter reported his salary as around $200,000 (instead of $60,000) and Jerry referred to one of the residents of his boarding house as "black" rather than "colored." Otherwise, The Zoo Storyremained unaltered.
Homelifetakes place in the spacious, modernist living room of the upper West Side home Peter shares with his wife Ann, their two daughters, the cats, and the parakeets. As rendered by set designer Jeff Cowie, this was a tasteful but bland space in neutral tones. A few throw pillows in ethnic textiles provided the only color. A balding and bespectacled Peter is so sunk in reading one of the textbooks published by his company that when Ann enters from the kitchen, dishtowel in hand, and says "We should talk," he takes no notice of her. Accustomed to his obliviousness, apparently bemused by it, she persists until she engages him in conversation about her dissatisfactions with how predictable the life they've built together has become.
Like other Albee protagonists, both Peter and Ann are concerned with precision and accuracy; they try to pin things down with words. And while they are far more civil in dissecting the existential ennui of their marriage than earlier Albee couples George and Martha of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?or Martin and Stevie of The Goat,their conversation is a dangerous one, particularly because it addresses their physical insecurities in frank terms. Homelifeis in large part a very high-stakes dialogue about sex between long-married people, and the audience alternately chuckled and held its breath as the private moment on stage unfolded.
The pervasive security of their lives has left Ann feeling quietly desperate. She wants more: more disclosure, more access to their animal natures in bed, "a little disorder, chaos, madness." Once he puts his book aside, Peter does his best to hear her and oblige. She tells him, "one night I sat for hours and thought about having my breasts cut off"; in the spirit of reciprocity, he reveals that he thinks his circumcision is "going away," that his "penis seems to be retreating." She's amused, which he tolerates; and under further pressure from her, he goes on to reveal a sexual episode from his frat house days when he hurt a woman—an event which goes a long way toward explaining why their sex since is so safe. Trying to "astonish" him, she slaps him and then kisses him; he freezes. In an effort to be spontaneous, they concoct a fantasy about disruption in their household menagerie, ending with cannibalism. And, with that absurdist dead end, the conversation has run its course for this day. She returns to the kitchen, and he heads off to the park to read where, we know, he will have the fatal confrontation with Jerry.
Frank Wood eschewed all flash in the central role of Peter but created a character who, while exasperatingly passive at times, was finally sympathetic. His gesture and gaze often went in opposite directions. His posture was collapsed, but he strained against habit and lifted his head too high when challenged...