A Trip to the Zoo
New Montreal Theatre Company Debuts Edward Albee Mash-up Production
What do you get when you cross an ordinary park bench, a disappearing circumcision and a diabolical murder scheme? Montreal’s new Chocolate Moose Theatre Company is connecting these dots with the debut production of Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo at Theatre Sainte Catherine.
Four friends and recent university grads Emily Murphy, Rowan Spencer, Andrew Cameron and Martin Law created the Chocolate Moose Theatre Company this past September as a means to satisfy their theatre cravings while creating accessible and affordable theatre in Montreal.
The McGill and Concordia alumni worked together throughout university in shows by the McGill Players and Tuesday Night Café. After graduation they tried seeking other theatre outlets in Montreal outside of the McGill community, but weren’t quite satisfied, and realized that in order to get back onstage they had to take things into their own hands.
Law had At Home at the Zoo on the list of plays he hoped to direct and approached his three friends, all itching for an opportunity to perform, for help. And thus, Chocolate Moose Theatre Company was born.
For the four lovers of the stage, there was a steep learning curve in launching their own company.
“It’s challenging, figuring out where to begin,” said Murphy.
“When you’re cast in a play, the venue, the designing, the publicist—that’s already done for you. Now we have to figure it out on our own.”
But the flipside is being able to exercise complete creative control. For Cameron, managing his own theatre production has been “ultimately more satisfying” than simply participating in one.
The company is already making use of that newfound creative control with At Home at the Zoo, a politically subversive production that combines the 1958 classic The Zoo Story with its prequel, Homelife, composed in 2004. Iconic American playwright Edward Albee wrote both.
The play begins by following Peter, a successful book publisher in New York City, played by Spencer. Peter has it all—a house, a loving wife, two daughters, two parakeets and a cat.
“Peter treats his life like we treat public transit: read a book, block out the noise and avoid eye contact,” said Law.
But everything changes when one night Peter is confronted by his wife Ann, played by Murphy, who tells him that ordinary isn’t enough for her anymore, and challenges the notion that happiness is only found in the warm confines of safety and predictability.
The second half of the play opens with Peter reading on a park bench in Central Park, where he’s confronted by Jerry, an absurd and lonely stranger played by Cameron. Through Jerry’s stories, observations, sensitivity and enthusiasm, Peter learns a lesson about the wonderful things that can happen outside one’s comfort zone.
Albee initially wrote the second act as a one-act play, Peter and Jerry, more commonly known as The Zoo Story. Nearly 50 years later, he decided to revisit his critically acclaimed work and create a background story for Peter, a prequel to the first classic, calling it Homelife. Chocolate Moose decided to combine the two, creating a full-length play that’s full of heart.
“We chose this play because everyone can relate to it,” said Murphy. “It deals with [the] real human condition through real human conversation.”
Though parts of the play were written nearly half a century ago, Law says the themes of alienation, social class structures and human communication remain just as relevant today.
“Deep down, we’re terrified and conditioned against the kind of intimacy, trust and vulnerability required to genuinely understand or reach others, and the society we live in is built over that broken glass,” said Law.
The Chocolate Moose founders plan to address the flaws of that metaphorical broken glass head-on in the production.
“It’s an important play—it demonstrates life’s true priorities by contrasting someone who has everything, yet feels nothing, with someone who has nothing yet feels everything,” said Cameron.
The company can relate to the earnest character of Jerry when it’s onstage—passionate and appreciative. When post-graduation life deprived them of pursuing their dreams, they quenched their thirst for performance by creating their own independent company.
After many late-night rehearsals in friends’ living rooms, carrying a park bench around the city in minus 20-degree weather and learning how to discuss circumcision for a long amount of time without laughing, the first Chocolate Moose production is underway. You’d be surprised what could happen on a park bench.
At Home at the Zoo // Jan. 16 to Jan. 18 // Theatre Sainte Catherine (264 Ste. Catherine St. E.) // 8 p.m. // $14 + fees
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