THE ZOO STORY, Excaliber Shakespeare Company of Chicago, at the New Harrison Street Galleries Studio Theatre. First produced in Berlin in 1959, Edward Albee’s extended one-act has aged remarkably well. His characters still fascinate–the desperate young drifter Jerry and his intended victim, the prissy executive Peter. And so does his story, with its undercurrents of sex, violence, and class warfare.

Even when its presentation is flawed, as it is in this awkward Excaliber Shakespeare Company production, Albee’s script is strong enough to prevail. But just barely. Darryl Maximilian Robinson’s direction is eccentric to say the least, making Albee’s subtle Christ imagery blindingly obvious and sweeping under the rug the play’s blatant sexual subtext: when it doesn’t sound like a halfhearted robbery attempt, much of Jerry’s dialogue sounds like a botched pickup. And for some reason Robinson has chosen to double cast both roles in this two-man play, mixing and matching his players so that the audience might catch any one of four possible combinations. This trick may work for improv comedy, but in a play this dependent on subtext and the chemistry between two people, it seems to ensure that even the best night will seem vaguely amateurish.

When I saw the production the performers were so out of sync they seemed to be in different plays. George Ketsios was wonderfully visceral as Jerry, but Brad Sandefur delivered a wooden performance that all but killed his character.

–Jack Helbig