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The Zoo story

By Terry Joseph
July 17, 2002

Among playwright Edward Albee’s little known idiosyncrasies is terseness, a trait best evidenced by his rush to complete The Zoo Story (1959) in a mere 21 days.

In the intervening 43 years, Albee delivered another 16 works (including Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and despite a drought of public appreciation the 1980s, remains one of America’s most celebrated playwrights, copping among his many awards, three Pulitzers, an Obie and a Tony.

But even so, Albee got much less than he deserved, requisite comeuppance for his unwillingness to take the necessary time and properly investigate a Trini input to the zoo story-line. Had he the patience, our dramas would surely have added further depth to the basic two-man tale of a drifter who acts out his own murder with the unwitting aid of an upper-middle-class editor.

And if The Zoo Story was considered a curtain-raiser for theatre of the absurd at the turn of the 1960s, imagine what our interim experiences could have done for the concept.

If any country could export absurdity, it is ours. For openers, we have more than one interesting zoo.

At the Emperor Valley facility there has been no shortage of intrigue and surreal sub-plots.

Former curator Hans Boos was charged for crimes involving pornography. It was noteworthy that many of the characters in movies confiscated from him did not have speaking parts.

More recently, two giant anacondas vanished from their cages on the very day a major police operation named after them commenced and were just as mysteriously repatriated after a nationwide alarm was raised.

But matters at another similarly named location have not been that easy to reconcile. Late night shenanigans at The Zoo bar and grill, on the corner of Carlos Street and Ariapita Avenue in Woodbrook continue to anger residents in the area, who argue that some species kept there grow restless after dark; often to the point of constituting a public nuisance.

As is the case with most watering holes set in residential areas, conflict arises when inebriated patrons show little sensitivity to well established moral values, although it should be noted that Woodbrook plays home to as many churches as it does brothels.

But it is hard to deny that the noise of departure by persons who may have had too much liquor constitutes a vexation to those living nearby. And when you add some Trini variety like urinating on fences, cranking up car stereos and yelling protracted goodbyes; decibels and degradation conspire to render the situation intolerable.

Quite naturally, when it came time for The Zoo’s liquor licence to be renewed, affected residents objected, demanding redress from their discomfort and citing legal provisions which they say, debar the proprietors from having a pub at that location.

Now, here is where the issue gets curious. Outline approval had initially been granted to The Zoo, advising that: “present planning policy would permit the establishment of a bar and grill, to accommodate a maximum of about 40 patrons at any given time”.

Well, the person or committee who came up with that specification must be merely visiting earth, since even Squeeze, literally a “hole-in-the-wall” pub just 20 paces from The Zoo, does far better than that on a slow night.

One suspects even the prostitutes on either end of Carlos Street enjoy greater nocturnal throughput.

As a residential area, Woodbrook has experienced some slippage over the past decade. Indeed, many homeowners rushed to relinquish family heirlooms in exchange for exorbitant rents or outright sale of their properties, resulting in Ariapita Avenue becoming home to some two dozen restaurants, pubs and casinos and an even greater number of daylight-only businesses.

Lawyers for the City Corporation say, however, the lease signed by proprietors of The Zoo prohibits use of the property “in any other manner than as a private dwelling house” (except with written permission).

Their claim also says tenants should “not do anything which shall or may be or become a nuisance, annoyance or inconvenience to the Corporation or the neighbourhood.”

Co-proprietor Ronald Moses denied any infringement of the lease.

In a brief Express interview, Moses expressed frustration with the residents’ complaints, saying The Zoo owners paid for no-parking signs and placed them in front of each house in the neighbourhood, and also hired people to clean up the area on a regular basis. His focus clearly excludes anti noise pollution initiatives.

As the players exit from the court, enter the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) from stage right, brandishing a ream of noise-restriction regulations and in its opening monologue, proclaiming that The Zoo proprietors must satisfy its rules in order to continue operating.

Given the prevailing circumstances, the EMA cannot overlook so loud a protest from the neighbourhood and may be forced to treat applications from The Zoo for variation certificates on an event-to-event basis.

What this would require of the proprietors is the placing of an advertisement in the daily newspapers at least five days before each night’s opening, giving the agency time to poll residents living nearby.

A fee is attached to each application and even on our crystal ball’s day off, we can imagine at least the 30 residents who took The Zoo to court to object every time EMA agents conduct a survey in the area.

In this land of many mysteries, we must be careful not to predict how this will all end. Suffice it to say, however, that Albee’s haste may have caused him to miss the real zoo story and worse, a proper appreciation of everyday theatre of the absurd.

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