The rail world
"Zoo" cleverly takes on reality TV with the story of four young people trapped on the subway while their private moments are played on video for them, the TV audience and us to see.
By JESSE SLOANE
"Zoo" is a play meant to speak directly to Us, to be for Us and about Us. The "Us" it tries so hard to reach is the group of people making up the audience. We who showed up to watch this play were all young people in New York, who within the past year had been subjected to two "Survivors," one "Temptation Island," yet another "Real World," and lesser imitations along those same lines. The writers of this play knew their audience: what could be more relevant to Us than a play about four young people in New York, who are trapped in a subway car and made the unwilling subjects of a reality TV show? This is the premise of "Zoo."
In the best "Real World" tradition, We get four different types of people in this mix. We have Tanya, a sassy black girl who meets everything with antagonism. Philip is a financial type whose repressed mix of impotence and violence bring to mind the besieged car salesman from "Fargo." Maureen is a refugee from an anonymous, generic Great Plains state who has adjusted better than one would expect to the loss of her entire family. Finally we have Caleb, who by the end of the play has either voiced or acted out every cliche you'd expect from a pot-smoking indie rocker.
|Company: MW Theatre Co..|
Written by: Margarita Manwelyan and Jessica Rotondi.
Directed by: Jessica Rotondi.
Cast: Tiffany May, Alva French, Jay Curtis, Margarita Manwelyan, Haskell King, M. Donelson Renda, Jeromy Barber, Crystal Williamson, Michael Andrews, Jimmy Bopp, Myorah Middleton, Andy Brown, Alyson Riffey, Emily Gustafson, Mia
Related links: Official site
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These four subway passengers are together, and on TV, but the play's premise goes beyond a simple satire of the reality TV craze: the four characters are violated by the cameras of their captors at not one, but two levels. At one level are the conflicts between the four as they bounce around their locked and motionless subway car. This aspect of the play is meant to echo Sartre's "No Exit," and it does, but this is still only the outer and less important level of action and observation. Unlike Sartre's prisoners, the "Zoo" inmates deal pretty well with being stuck with one another. They react to this inconvenience with the same weary resignation most of Us develop after signal malfunctions, sick passengers, and subway suicides have made being trapped with strangers underground a familiar experience.
It's a deeper, second level of reality television that agitates our heroes into acting out a plot for Us. Turns out that the most painful and shameful moments of each character's life have been caught on videotape, and these scenes are played back into the subway car to be seen by the character involved, along with the other three inmates, the nationwide TV audience and, of course, those of Us watching the play. The entrapees are predictably angry to see their most private moments dragged out into the open by an unseen hand. Dramatic conflicts follow.
Nothing fleshes out a play's characters like watching them writhe in times of trial, and these four characters are brought vividly to life. We see each character on the train bend differently under the pressure of personal crisis, and all four of the actors are totally convincing. Even in moments when an actor waits for something to happen, the waiting is done with a tense energy more convincing than natural waiting would have been. As a story about human imperfection and the human reactions to it, this production of "Zoo" has succeeded on the strength of the acting may these people go far.
|AUGUST 26, 2001|
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