The overpowering human need to connect, to make a difference to one another, flows through Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story.” Aside from a deep understanding of Albee’s debut work (written in 1958), this production, under director Jodi Binstock, adds another layer to it.
Both actors simultaneously speak and sign their way through the cathartic Central Park bench meeting of Peter (Michael Bonnabel) and Jerry (Conrad Dunn). It works. Notwithstanding the value of bringing this important work to a non-hearing audience, the energy of the gestures generated by the actors actually underscores the emotional impact of their fateful encounter.
The successful but inhibited Peter and the street-laden misanthrope Jerry meet and embark on a verbal pas de deux. Binstock masterfully orchestrates this encounter so every nuance of their evolving relationship is clearly highlighted.
Binstock never allows the potentially rambling outbursts of Jerry to outdistance the comprehension of the bewildered but intrigued Peter; she is helped immeasurably by the signing, generated with the assistance of signing consultant Peggie Reyna.
Having said that, it is still undeniable that the pulse of “The Zoo Story” beats from the heart of Jerry. This strangely repulsive but hypnotic being is personified by Conrad Dunn. He is immediately dangerous but poetic, a loose cannon with the patience of a Buddhist monk.
It is an amazing experience to watch this gifted performer use his words and his almost dancelike signing ability to frighten yet somehow give comfort to his newfound soulmate Peter.
Peter is a difficult role: Given what Edward Albee has imposed — a reserved, upper middle-class, pedantic publisher — it is difficult to understand why he would allow himself to spend time with the wild-eyed Jerry in a desolate section of Central Park.
Peter Bonnabel, though he exudes all the proper mannerisms, does not create an inner life that thirsts to connect with the life force of Jerry. He reacts well to the stimuli from this prowling creature, but Bonnabel never exhibits Peter’s deep-rooted need to bond with Jerry on Jerry’s terms.
Set and lighting designers Darrell Martin and Binstock create a comfortable and correct environment.