Student-directed play drives home consequences of suppressed emotions
The School of Theater, Film & Television’s upcoming production “Project II: Homelife and The Zoo Story” combines two tales to express shared themes of suppressed emotions (Jefferson Alade/Daily Bruin)
"Project II: Homelife and The Zoo Story"
By Eden Yeh
Feb. 7, 2022 12:47 a.m.
Suppressed emotions are taking the limelight in “Project II: Homelife and The Zoo Story.”
Held by the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, “Project II: Homelife and The Zoo Story” will feature American playwright Edward Albee’s two plays set on one stage. MFA theater students Yuval Zehavi and David H. Parker directed “Homelife” and “The Zoo Story,” respectively, and will be showcasing their work at Macgowan Hall. Written as a prequel to the 1958 drama “The Zoo Story,” “Homelife” centers on a discussion between the main character, Peter, and his wife, Ann, and introduces the themes of suppressed emotions shared across both plays, Zehavi said.
“What is interesting for me to display is this moment of reflection and their expectations in terms of whatever society expects of them to do – graduate college, find a job, get married, buy a house, have children,” Zehavi said. “In this moment, for this period of time, they stop and reflect on their life choices.”
While “Homelife” is a distinct conversation from “The Zoo Story,” Zehavi said both plays share the theme of suppressed desires within Peter as an upper-middle-class man living a seemingly normal life with his wife and daughters. After years of repressing his past trauma, Peter grapples with these turbulent emotions in an effort to take control over his life, Zehavi said.
[Related: ‘A Most Favored Nation’ offers unique augmented reality theater experience]
While researching Peter’s character across “Homelife” and “The Zoo Story,” Parker said his role as director of the latter informed a similar theme based on the repression of emotional instincts. The plot of the second play follows Peter and an erratic man named Jerry as their relationship progresses in Central Park. The initial normalcy of Peter’s character unravels in “The Zoo Story,” and his primal instincts surface as he interacts with Jerry, Parker said.
“We see this animalistic tendency of these qualities between these characters – one of them wanting what the other has and one of them not understanding what the other wants and wanting to defend it,” Parker said. “They also have to toy with the idea of, ‘I may want that, but I’m not really trying to get it. I’m just trying to get that person that has so much more to realize what they have and what I don’t.'”
In preparing for their directorial roles, Parker said he and Zehavi decided on the plays in early December and proceeded into research, meetings, castings and rehearsals to prepare for their February performances. While the first meeting was held over Zoom, subsequent rehearsals were held in person and provided an uplifting atmosphere that fostered collaboration between the actors and directors, he said. Zehavi said the in-person rehearsal process over the course of a month supported an interactive environment for sharing knowledge with the cast and crew while necessitating daily reflection on improvements for the following day.
[Related: Students embrace absurdity, foster arts community with their production company]
Fourth-year theater student Gwenn Rodriques, who stars as Ann in “Homelife,” said the in-person rehearsals allowed actors to go off-book and memorize lines from an interpretive angle. Along the lines of Zehavi’s and Parker’s thematic perspectives on suppressed emotion and memories, the character of Ann also shares a complexity to her feelings that is repressed under the image of the common housewife, Rodriques said.
“She’s originally a little bit of a reserved character, and she’s settled with the life that she’s had,” Rodriques said. “She loves her husband, but she also desires just a little bit more in her relationship with her husband. She finally gets to push him to open up, and she also sees (herself) open up as well and be able to actually tell him how she exactly feels.”
The emotional complexity of the characters in “Homelife” and “The Zoo Story” beckons a closer look at the circumstances surrounding Peter’s and Jerry’s stories and lives, Parker said. Parker said the general theme of mental illness is a common takeaway after viewing the play. However, he said it is important that audiences delve into more nuanced conversations surrounding housing insecurity and people experiencing chronic homelessness when engaging with the play’s story and characters.
As for Zehavi, he said he hopes audiences will not only look within themselves to challenge their senses but also look beyond their comfort zones to connect with one another in a disjointed world.
“We should also challenge ourselves in the sense that these two one-acts are going from a very indoor situation to a very outdoor situation, as the character Peter goes from inside challenging and questioning, as we did at the beginning of the pandemic,” Zehavi said.