Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo is enjoying a one-week revival at the historic Guild Hall in East Hampton, New York. At Home is comprised of two plays, actually — Albee’s first, The Zoo Storyand its prequel written some five decades later, home life. And to our delight, one of our favorite couples of the stage and screen, Michael Urie and Ryan Spahn, will be playing the leads.
Albee’s seminal work, The Zoo Story, written in only three weeks in 1958, was at first rejected by American producers but went on to become one of his most famous. The one-act play centers on a chance meeting between two men, Peter and Jerry [played by Spahn and Urie respectively], and a conversation that leaves their lives forever changed. Albee always felt Peter needed more of a backstory — and so 50 years later, he wrote one called home life.
“The Albee estate only originally allowed us to do Zoo Story in isolation, which was not normally what the estate allows,” says Spahn, explaining that the Albee estate now usually requires both plays to be done together as Edward Albee’s at Home at the Zoo (originally titled peter and jerry). “Because of the pandemic and because…Michael and I, as a couple living in a pod, were going to do the play outdoors. And the Albee state agreed to a special arrangement that we could do Zoo Story in isolation. But then once everything started to change [and re-open] in the world, they came back and were like, ‘OK, now you need to add home life.’”
Now that the world, despite some regression here and there, is slowly re-opening, the Guild Hall decided to bring the play indoors and add the second half, which Urie says was a welcome surprise after over a year and a half of performing in one’s living room.
“They were really excited. [and] moved us inside, so now we’re going to be in a theater, for reals!” says Urie excitedly. “And we’ve added the wonderful Sophie Von Huselberg as Anne [Peter’s wife] in the first play, which is very cool because the plays, even though they were written 50 years apart and they’re very different, they really do speak to one another and inform one another.”
“Well with the Zoom stuff,” adds Spahn, “so much of our rehearsals end up being about the tech of it, about where your eyeline is, so that it looks like you’re looking at the person you would normally be looking directly at, how you figure that out on a computer. So much of what you end of rehearsing has nothing to do with anything.”
On working together, the longtime couple has learned to navigate the delicate balancing act of home versus work life over the years, which they say is key. They’ve even worked opposite each other before in leading roles onstage, like in Steven Belber’s tape and The Last Sunday in June by outplaywright Jonathan Tolins.
“What we have had to learn when we worked together is like, at some point, we have to stop working because we both love to work,” says Urie. “And it’s easy to just keep talking about the work when the day is over, you know, or keep thinking about the work. We’ve gotten really good at [balancing] that actually over the years.”
This production of Edward Albee’s at Home at the Zoo is being directed by Nathan Winkelstein and runs this weekend only, August 13 – 15, at Guild Hall, which is also celebrating its 90th anniversary. Albee was a longtime fixture on the East End, and once even served as the artistic director of Guild Hall’s John Drew Theater.