‘Zoo Story’ first Vasey Theatre show of the semester

Lori Vetrano

Don’t be fooled by the title: Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story” actually has nothing to do with monkeys, giraffes or elephants. Rather, it is a profoundly affecting story about being human.

The entire show takes place around a bench in Central Park between two drastically different men. In fact, the stories that are told by the two men throughout the play aren’t even considered stories; they’re “truths.”

The two lead actors, Chris Serpentine and Will Windsor Erwin, revealed that the play takes the audience on an emotional ride and teaches that life is about making connections, even between the most unlikely of people.

Peter, who is played by Erwin, is your typical upper/lower-middle-class publishing executive from the Upper East Side who seems to have everything going for him. He has a wife, two daughters, two cats and two parakeets. He’s a typical guy with everything except time, space, a son, and a dog: four things that he truly believes he wants.

He comes to the bench and reads fiction books in Central Park every Sunday to escape his mundane life. But one day Jerry, who is played by Serpentine, changes Peter’s Sunday routine forever by approaching him and speaking five simple words: “I’ve been to the zoo.”

“Jerry yearns for a connection,” Serpentine says. “After going to the zoo, he made a decision to walk somewhere and talk to someone, and make a connection with them. By saying ‘I’ve been to the zoo,’ he was also asking ‘Is this where I’m supposed to be?'”

From that point on, Jerry tells Peter all kinds of stories about his life, except that they are referred to as “truths” because, as Serpentine puts, “Stories can be fictional.”

Jerry’s stories aren’t fictional – they’re factual. He opens his mind and tries to teach [Peter] how ‘the other half’ lives. It actually works out, since Peter “doesn’t like to talk, but he doesn’t mind listening,” as Erwin puts it.

“They’re as far removed from each other as any two people can be,” Erwin says. “You have one who’s from the Upper East Side, who has this great life, but doesn’t realize what he has. Then you have the other who’s from the Upper West Side, who’s been through all this stuff and is looking to find a connection with anyone.”

The show is a one-act play consisting mostly of dialogue, but it has been put together by an extreme amount of work from everyone involved.

The cast and crew took a field trip to Central Park to try and capture its genuine essence.

The set, designed by Parris Bradley and put together by various Villanova students, looks like the real deal, complete with soil and a few of Villanova University’s own trees.

Both Serpentine and Erwin were also challenged in the production of this show.

“Jerry isn’t telling these truths for himself – he’s telling them to help Peter understand,” Serpentine says. “It’s the first time these truths have ever been spoken from his lips. I have to stay invested in [Jerry] throughout the entire show – I can’t think of anything besides what he would be thinking.”

As for Baxter the dog, Erwin says, “There’s a scene where Baxter comes up on Peter’s bench and invades his space. The funny thing is, as much as he loves dogs, he sends Baxter away because he wants his peace and quiet.”

Erwin adds that it’s a shame Peter doesn’t appreciate what he has because he’s so dependent on his space. During one of Jerry’s stories, he explains how he tried to make a connection with an ugly, sick dog even though he failed trying. Here Peter shoos away a dog, something he seems to want, but Jerry tries to welcome an uglier, sicker dog into his life.

“Peter and Jerry make a connection,” Serpentine said. “But Baxter and Jerry make another connection too. He needed that. Jerry needed to bear his soul and start fresh.”

“Zoo Story,” directed by Joanna Rotte, will be playing at the Villanova Vasey Theatre. The show will be performed Sept. 22 to Oct. 4, and showtimes are 8 p.m. on Tuesday to Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday with an additional performance at 7 p.m. on Oct. 4. Ticket prices range from $20 to $24, with discounts for seniors, students and groups.