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Director Chandni Varma (centre) with actors Sanjeev Dixit and Assyl Yacine. Image Credit: Supplied

As humans, we deal in responses; seeking cues to react to. But imagine a thin, transparent film coating you, blocking your receptors to all stimuli. Such is the landmine of Edward Albee’s ‘The Zoo Story’.

The play, an adaptation of which runs at The Yard, Al Serkal Avenue, from April 25-27, was written in 1958. And while it has been supplemented by other acts, it still poses a parable. Compare the state of the maddened-by-isolation Jerry with the sense of loneliness spilling from the minds of social media junkies today. In both cases, the straight-jacket is self-imposed; the lack of connection a mere by-product.

But it is real.

In ‘The Zoo Story’, Jerry comes across Peter, a man who seems like his polar opposite. Where Jerry stumbles at forming links — even with his dog — Peter seems like a ‘well-rounded’ person with a wife, kids and even pets at home.

But crush the two opposites together in a park and the result is startling. The desperation to talk — and listen — to another human being comes to the fore in all its prickly glory. And with it comes a devolution — how far would you go to find something in common with someone, to feel something?

Sanjeev Dixit, who plays Jerry, with director Chandni Verma and Assyl Yacine .

Sanjeev Dixit explains his lessons from playing Jerry. “Actually, it’s something that just struck me recently, and I haven’t completely understood or processed it. But if I were to try: It is the idea that apathy is brutal and unbearable. Hence the need for connection. But eventually, at least in my interpretation of Jerry’s character, every attempt at connection ends in apathy, or indifference. Moreover, when we can’t express this desire to connect positively, through love for example, then we seek it through cruelty.” (At one point Jerry tries to poison the dog.)

“I’m still formulating this idea but I do see some parallels in the real world. I mean why do we see so much polarisation and bickering, especially on social media for example?” he says.

Is it that modern conveniences that come at a steep cost? Dixit says: “One can say that rapid urbanisation and the pace of urban life in particular has given rise to [a] sense of detachment and of loneliness, where some may feel starved of connection. Certainly Jerry in the play does feel this way. But to say this is the rule and not the exception is startling. But I guess one has to accept, especially in today’s social media-dominated environment, that the sense of being alone in a crowd is often expressed.”

Assyl Yacine (Peter) is credited with roles in plays including Sutradhar, Cymbelline and The Great Redeemer. When asked if he found melding into character easy, Yacine says: “We haven’t performed yet so I’m still trying to pull a reverse butterfly, and fit snugly into Peter’s cocoon.”

Sanjeev Dixit, who plays Jerry, in conversation with Peter ( Assyl Yacine) .

Yet, it’s when the cracks in the cocoon are pried open by his new angst-filled companion that the true test of humanity pours forth. Pushed into action, Peter must decide if he will remove himself from an upsetting situation or continue to engage no matter the cost.

Director Chandni Varma, who calls the play a “relevant, powerful, introspective” work, finds both characters festooning her, calling for attention. Yet, “the part that resonates with me the most is the question about love. What is love really? It’s an important question I asked myself while working on the play. Is love only an act of giving or affection? Isn’t an act of violence also not an act of love in some strange, convoluted manner? How do I deal with guilt? Do I need to go through the same experience I put someone else through to simply feel better?

“I actually think I am more forgiving as a person after having gone through the process of putting this play together,” she says.

The Zoo Story is a walk through the human condition. No one said it would be pretty, but it may be something you could connect to.

Don’t miss it!

Tickets to see ‘The Zoo Story’ at The Yard, Al Serkal Avenue, are Dh60