William Daniels The Actor

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Peter, The Zoo Story

Theater, 1959-1960

This was Edward Albee's first play to be staged in New York, and my first big break. It was a two character play with one character, Jerry, played by George Maharis and one character, Peter, played by me. Jerry did most of the talking. Peter mostly sat and listened. But the way I did that made a difference. On opening night in Provincetown Jerry walks behind me sitting on a bench in Central Park and says "I've been to the zoo." Without turning to look and see who is speaking, I simply look up—straight ahead—huge laugh!

There were other laughs, which Albee and the producers had not anticipated. "Why are you playing for laughs?" they asked. "This is a serious play." I said I was not playing it for laughs, and the issue subsided. They realized that the reaction meant we already had the audience in the palm of our hands.

The Zoo Story was a monumental success. I played in it for two years in New York and in South America. It always aroused the audience and made them eager to see Albee's even more brilliant Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf when it premiered several years later.