Theater review: Innovation and insight give plays depth

    Don’t you hate it when Grandma tricks the neighborhood Adonis into playing the role of your long-lost son? And when strange men walk up to you in the park, tell you their life story, and then impale themselves on a knife you happen to be holding?

    Intrigued?

    “”The American Dream”” and “”The Zoo Story,”” two one-act plays showing at the 6th @ Penn Theater in downtown San Diego, relate such events for both comic and dramatic ends. With talented actors and an innovative design team, the Renaissance Theater Company upholds the magic and chaos of playwright Edward Albee’s work.

    “”The American Dream”” looks at a day in the life of “”Mommy,”” “”Daddy”” and “”Grandma,”” whose eccentricities are as wacky and homespun as their names. While the acting is solid and very funny, the most eye-popping aspect of the opening act is its set. Fashioned more like a Salvador Dali painting than a living room, the optical illusion-infused lines and colors made every actor standing — especially “”Mommy”” (Sandra Ellis-Troy) — look twice as big as every player on stage.

    In “”The Zoo Story,”” Peter (Marcus Overton), the content publisher, visits his Sunday bench where he encounters Jerry (Jeffrey Jones), the somewhat crazy, somewhat visionary recluse. Jerry eventually becomes aggressive and skewers himself with his own knife — a knife that Peter happens to be holding.

    Both actors in this play were fantastic. They were able to convey multidimensional characters while enacting incredible intensity, yet without crossing into hysteria. Jones, who carries the scene, was especially impressive, since his impeccable concentration emits both his insanity and an underlying tender humanity. It is this humanity — the common link between the crazy reject and every single member of the audience — that gives the play its honesty and depth.

    The 6th @ Penn Theater production of Edward Albee’s “”The Zoo Story”” and “”The American Dream”” provide kooky yet insightful entertainment that will start you both laughing and thinking.

    “”The Zoo Story””,

    “”The American Dream””,

    by Edward Albee

    6th @ Penn Theater, downtown

    Running through Nov. 10

    www.6thatpenn.com

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