For Tony Cohn, student theater is more than just a fleeting hobby.
College of Arts and Sciences and School of Communication sophomore Cohn has turned his directorial debut with the AU Players’ production of Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story” into a complicated, comedic work of theatrical conversation.
Cohn said he views Albee as “one of America’s best writers.” The author’s “incredibly conversational and personal” style lends itself to this production’s intimate setting and minimalist trappings, according to Cohn. Low-maintenance surroundings afforded time and energy for the cast to discuss the characters and determine the most dynamic blocking.
The cast of “Zoo Story” is small but impressive. Leah Jereb, a freshman in SOC, plays Pat, a woman content with her routines but perhaps sheltered from the messier realities of the world around her. In Albee’s script, the character is a man named Peter, but Jereb’s audition convinced Cohn that he ought to make an exception for the sake of a superb performance. Aside from eliminating references to Peter from the script, Cohn insists that the impact of the character lies beyond any superficial question of gender.
Playing Pat provided Jereb with a fresh perspective on the joys of theatre at AU.
“You don’t have to be in a mainstage production in order to have a great experience,” Jereb said.
Cohn echoed this sentiment, extolling the collaborative nature of this project as well as the sense of personal possession that comes with it. Every responsibility — designing the sets, crafting comfortable costumes, even transporting the equipment from the Katzen Arts Center to the Butler Board Room — fell to the cast.
“It’s our production,” Cohn said.
As the play opens, Pat calmly sits on a park bench reading a book until Jerry, a strange and talkative fellow, interrupts her reverie. Egbert Ospina, a freshman in the School of International Service, portrays the wildcard character of Jerry with a mixture of charisma and insanity inspired in part by several of the actor’s real-life encounters.
Ospina said that discovering the similarities between character and personal experience injected him with a newfound confidence, empowering him to overcome the challenges of memorization.
“I have one six-page monologue,” Ospina said, but he maintains that the struggles were ultimately fruitful. He describes his time with “Zoo Story” as a “great experience” and offers emphatic praise to his “energetic and insane” director.
When asked to describe the show’s principal theme, Cohn pointed to Albee’s focus on the “effects of human isolation.” This play provides tentative answers to the pervasive loneliness that affects human emotion and asks viewers to draw their own conclusions.
Whether “Zoo Story” provokes such thoughts or simply entertains with its dynamic interactions and unexpected digressions, the cast will be satisfied.
“It’s been fantastic,” Ospina said.