Edward Albee wrote The Zoo Story in less than three weeks in 1958, and originally titled it Peter and Jerry. Although Albee is now widely considered to be among America's greatest living playwrights, this was his first foray into drama writing. It was rejected by producers in New York and was first staged at the Schiller Theater in West Berlin in 1959.
The one-act play revolves around a conversation between Peter, a middle-class publishing executive, and Jerry, an eccentric transient. They chat cordially in Central Park, but their discussion gradually descends into violence. In a 2011 interview, Albee admitted that he was more interested in Jerry's perspectives than Peter's, which is why the play is structured around Peter's reactions to Jerry's odd behavior. "He was the more interesting person, the more complex person," Albee commented. "An outsider is always more interesting than an establishment figure" (Wallenberg).
The Zoo Story was first performed in the United States in 1960 at the Provincetown Playhouse. It was very well-received critically, and Albee was credited with bringing the techniques of the European Theater of the Absurd to American drama. The popularity of The Zoo Story laid the groundwork for the success of other Albee plays over the next few years, including The Sandbox and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Although Albee's dramatic style evolved greatly over his long career, he always remained fascinated with the characters and ideas he addressed in The Zoo Story. In 2004, he wrote Homelife, a one-act prequel to The Zoo Story. Homelife depicts Peter's marriage to his wife, Ann, and ends as Peter leaves for Central Park for his fateful meeting with Jerry. Albee, who still retained full control over his plays, stopped granting professional theatre companies permission to perform The Zoo Story at this time. Any professional performance had to include Homelife as a first act. The double-act show is titled Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo. This move was extremely controversial in the theatre community because The Zoo Story had, at this point, been a classic work for decades. (Non-professional and college companies are still allowed to perform The Zoo Story as a single act.)